Sprint's Hesse woos customers with WiMax plans

Sprint's CEO Dan Hesse explains why a risky 4G network build is a smart strategy

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse shared the company's WiMax plans this week at the US CTIA Wireless conference. The company plans to build a fourth-generation wireless network and Hesse admits that's a risky move, but he insists it's the right one.

Can you describe Sprint's WiMAX strategy?

We think we have the opportunity to own the pole position. What our customers have told us is that they want it instant -- when they use their wireless devices, when they surf the web, whatever is it they are looking for, they want it to download immediately. We have the largest broadband wireless network in America today. We have a very advanced 3G network, which is very fast, but 4G, I think of that as almost on steroids, especially with new applications such as streaming video.

So having the true broadband application on your wireless device is why we think bringing 4G, fourth generation, to the market very quickly is important. And WiMax is the only fourth-generation technology really ready to go now. It's not slideware. It's working right now; it's working in a number of countries around the world, over 100. We had a soft launch that brought the product out in three cities and we plan to launch it nationally.

You mentioned WiMax is in over 100 other countries worldwide. Why has WiMax been so late to arrive in the US?

First, in all things wireless, America usually is a laggard, and typically in terms of wireless development. I don't think it is a secret. I've spent a lot of my life outside of the US. I actually recently left the board of directors of Nokia, which of course I had to resign from when I took the Sprint job because of potential conflicts. Fast adoption of the newest wireless technologies generally takes place in Europe and Asia more than it does in North America. I think it's partly because the landline network is stronger and is more robust in America than in other parts of the world.

What is the advantage of WiMax over other cellular technologies that may be more predominant in the US right now?

It's just faster, faster speeds. It's the next generation. When we talk wireless and we talk generations, they might recognise some of these acronyms or descriptions. First generation was analog. Second generation, you will hear words like GSM or CDMA. Third generation, most wireless carriers are just beginning to deploy today. We use something called EV-DO, that's third generation. Fourth generation, really the only standard that is deployed today is WiMax. WiMax is really very much at the leading edge. It's almost unfair to say it's not deployed widely; we intend to be the first. It is part of our leadership position that we want to launch WiMax first, and we think it will give us a two-to-three year head start on other wireless carriers who will deploy 4G or fourth generation probably in two to three years.

Why are you so far ahead?

It's really just a decision that we're making to be first. There are advantages and disadvantages from a risk perspective to being, if you will, the leader. And we are quite frankly taking a bit of a risk -- the old saying, "Build it and they will come". Some people believe that the applications aren't there yet to justify those really broadband data speeds, that today's wireless networks are fast enough. We don't believe that.

Why do you think the risk is worth it?

We think the applications are there. Imagine being able to download movies real time to the kids in the back seat of your car as you go down the street. With the camcorder, being able to simultaneously, as I am taking a movie, have that transmitted real time to my television back home. Or a picture uploaded to a social website at very high speed, a five megapixel or an eight megapixel picture. Those kinds of applications, I think, are right around the corner and people will use them, and applications developers will develop those applications if the capability is there.

Sprint's WiMax service is called Xohm (pronounced zoam). Could you tell people a bit about what they can expect, what cities it will be available in first and what they are going to get in general?

Sprint obviously is a nationwide carrier that provides second- and third-generation, if you will, voice and data services in 50 states all across the country. Xohm is our fourth-generation offer that we were just talking about. We've done a soft launch in Washington DC, Baltimore and Chicago. Later we will do a full-scale commercial launch and then gradually begin to build it in other cities. With third generation, which are products like our Air card and smartphones that use high-speed data on your wireless phone and wireless devices. That is going to be a very good mobile internet experience. WiMax is just taking that to much faster speeds and many more applications. That will be rolled out over time, but those three cities I mentioned earlier are the ones that will have it first.

Hesse talks about his favourite tech

Now that we've wrapped up Sprint's strategy, let's learn a little bit more about you. What was your first computer?

My first computer was actually an AT&T computer. AT&T had a joint venture with a company called Olivetti in Italy back in the early '80s. It was an IBM-style of computer. It was back in 1982 that I got my first computer.

What's your favourite gadget today?

I have got a few favourite gadgets. A gadget I use a lot is a combination super-audio CD and DVD audio player that I have in the house. I am an audiofile, and it is by far the highest-quality digital format that you can get there in sound systems. I use that with a pair of electro-static headphones because I am not allowed to play it in the house as loud as I would like.

If you could invent a new gadget, what would it be?

I'd probably invent a really high-fidelity, wireless headphone that you could possibly use with 4G. So get the same audio quality that I talked about with the super-audio CDs and DVD audio, but be able to hear that and get it almost off the air, whether it's satellite or through WiMax, wirelessly -- but everywhere and at super high audio quality.

What's your favorite website?

I have to admit I go to Google a lot for search.

Any favourite online or video games?

Unfortunately, my kids have the inside track on that. As a matter of fact, I am trying to limit their game time. They are gaming nuts. I actually kind of just watch over their shoulder. They go through phases, I have two boys, 9 and 12, and right now they are really enjoying WWE, which is wrestling.

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