Editor's Corner

Could we finally see some interesting marketing wars in the mobile broadband market? Sprint Nextel appears to be firing the first salvo. A couple of weeks ago the carrier began offering data-only plans for its EV-DO network, eliminating the requirement for an accompanying voice plan like Verizon Wireless requires and offering free data cards to business users. Sprint's ads lately have been knocking Cingular Wireless' EDGE network speeds, and it calls itself the nation's largest broadband wireless network.

And unless Verizon makes some surprise move, Sprint will be the first out of the gate in the fourth quarter with quite extensive coverage of EV-DO Rev. A technology, which will offer much faster upload speeds and improved latency. In fact, it's already seeding the market with Rev. A data cards. Sierra Wireless announced today that it has begun commercial shipments of the Sierra Wireless AirCard 595 Sprint Mobile Broadband card for Rev. A, which can be used now and accommodate the Rev. A network later. Sierra also announced it received certification for the Sierra Wireless MC5725 PCI Express Mini Card embedded module. Shipments of that will begin this month. I suspect we'll begin to see some sort of aggressive play against Verizon once the Rev. A network is launched.

Barry Tishgardt, director of marketing with Sprint Business Solutions, confirmed for me last week that Sprint will work to make broadband a key differentiator for the company in the business world. Hence the reason it is attacking Cingular's EDGE network. It has some time to woo these customers before Cingular gets HSDPA up and running in a significant number of markets.

One interesting point Tishgardt made was that the company is not imposing the draconian use policies that Verizon and Cingular have in place that prohibit activities such as video streaming. Verizon has been sending termination letters to those folks who have used more than 10 gigabytes of service. In fact, Sprint is encouraging heavy use of the EV-DO network (it's in a spectrum position to do it). It whole-heartedly backs and markets services with the Junxion Box, a stand-alone PC card modem that essentially creates an EV-DO hotspot, enabling applications such as telemetry, landline replacement, landline fail-over and video monitoring--all heavy data-loading applications. Landline fail-over is a key service Sprint is heavily marketing to business users at this point.

Cingular has also certified the Junxion box and even exhibited the box during last week's CTIA I.T. show. It has approved many of the same applications Sprint has, although it is not supporting the public or private transit applications Sprint supports. This makes me believe that Cingular doesn't necessarily enforce the use restrictions it imposes on its customers.

Junxion says some 700 big businesses and government entities have now deployed the Junxion box. Are we entering an era where operators need to start thinking of themselves as mobile ISPs, allowing users to leverage them the same way millions of subscribers route fixed ISP connections? I believe this will become a key requirement once Sprint, Verizon and Cingular are on equal footing with network speeds and coverage. And customers will make it happen anyway. It will be interesting to see if Sprint's new pressure makes competitors, primarily Verizon, move faster. Meanwhile, enterprises are catching on to the Junxion Box and other mobile routers that are out in the market, such as the Kyocera KR1, with reviews from groups such as eWeek and CNET.-Lynnette