Sprint plans further WiMAX build-up, 'push-to-talk' CDMA phones

After suffering a $29.5 billion loss in its latest quarter, a beleagured Sprint is focusing on keeping customers from drifting away from its Sprint CDMA and Nextel networks.

Sprint-Nextel is still eyeing an initially data-oriented service for its WiMAX network, known as Xohm, and the 4G network's current soft launch is now in the process of being "built up," said company CEO Dan Hesse, in an earnings call. Hesse said that Sprint is also talking with Clearwire, its former partner in Xohm, about some sort of a revamped relationship, but he declined to elaborate much further.

"Now taking data to the next level (will be) 4G or fourth generation, which is often referred to as WiMAX. I am extremely encouraged with what I have seen. Our soft launches in Baltimore, Washington and Chicago offer confidence in the performance of the technology," Hesse said during the call with financial analyts.

"Sprint has an enormous asset - nearly 100 megahertz of unutilized spectrum - and the opportunity to have a three-year head start with our Xohm service -- true wireless broadband with multi-megabit speed," he contended.

But still, after suffering a $29.5 billion loss in the last financial quarter, Sprint plans to focus most of its efforts on reducing further churn --or drift to other providers -- in its "core business" of cellular phone service on its long-time CDMA network, as well as on the iDEN network inherited through Sprint's Nextel acquisition, said Hesse.

Plans in that direction include improved customer service in which problems are resolved in a single call; the inclusion of broader voice and data calling abilities in its existing $99.99 per month Simply Everything plan, starting today; and adoption of the "push-to-talk" feature across both iDEN and CDMA.

"Push-to-talk is a genuine differentiator. The Nextel brand is synonymous with this capability, and iDEN has set the standard for the customer experience. Push-to-talk, which is evolving into push-to-X, must be sub-second or it's second rate," he said.

"We think the button is so powerful that we're going to launch it on our CDMA platform as well this year. Customers will get sub-second push-to-talk connections on either CDMA or on iDEN, as well as between our CDMA and our iDEN networks."

Hesse admitted early in the call that, "Our business is not performing well.". But later on, he suggested that, at the level of network performance, he is more than satisfied with Sprint's existing cellular networks.

As for Xohm, the focus at the outset is on data services, said Hesse. "It'll be a different kind of service, a very data-oriented service early on," according to the CEO. "(And I) believe, you know, we want that name also to have cachet and relevance for its particular applications."

Hesse told financial analysts that the current soft launches in Baltimore, Washington and Chicago are "fundamentally" with Sprint's employees.

"We continue the build outs in those markets as well as making preparations to launch in other cities," he elaborated.

Hesse also said that Sprint is continuing to explore "potential investment alternatives" (https://betanews.com/article/Should_Sprint_Nextel_spin_off_WiMAX/1196800945) around Xohm, and that the company is talking with Clearwire about "potential relationships." But he declined to be much more specific in these regards.

"Back in November we announced that we were terminating our non-binding term sheet with Clearwire to jointly build a nationwide WiMAX network, but that we would continue to have discussions with them on various matters," said Hesse.

"Since then, we have had wide ranging discussions with Clearwire on potential relationships but no final agreements have been reached. It's our policy not to comment on rumors about any specific transactions, including rumors that have recently found their way into the press," according to the Sprint CEO.

"I just want to emphasize [that] we have not made final decisions with respect to, you know, Xohm or WiMAX yet, and we're not providing additional information on potential service expansion at this time.. But (we) are looking at other potential investment alternatives and what have you, and so those are being explored."

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