Sprint stumbles, loses focus

It was painful to watch the nation's No. 3 operator stumble time and again in 2007. Early in the year, Sprint was bullish on WiMAX, its cable joint venture Pivot and its hope that the Powersource handsets (dual-CDMA/iDEN) would prevent iDEN customers from leaving the operator. By year-end most of these initiatives were in turmoil.

Barry West, Sprint's CTO and president of the firm's mobile broadband unit hit the road early in 2007 and spoke at numerous conferences touting the firm's WiMAX vision and fueling the WiMAX vendor ecosystem. The proposed network, called Xohm, was pitched as a platform for innovation that would allow open access to devices and applications. But at year-end, Sprint's WiMAX vision is in desperate need for clarity. West, while still with Sprint, has been noticeably quiet for the past few months and the firm's partnership with Clearwire, which would have helped reduce costs and increase WiMAX coverage, fell apart leaving many to wonder about Xohm's future. The company, however, is in the midst of soft-launching WiMAX test markets in Chicago and Baltimore/Washington, D.C.

Sprint's $200 million cable joint venture called Pivot also took a turn for the worst in late 2007. At CTIA Wireless 2007 the company boldly announced that Pivot would be in 40 markets by year-end. That vision quickly lost focus and by November Sprint had decided not to expand the service into other markets or offer it in any more retail stores. The company said that Pivot was plagued by provisioning problems. Now it appears that the cable firms may be going it alone. An AP article in mid-November said that cable providers within the Pivot joint venture may break away and launch their own mobile service.

Also in 2007 iDEN customers left Sprint at alarming rates. During a UBS conference in early December, Sprint said that it was going to focus on customer retention. In particular, the company said it would start beefing up its marketing of the iDEN brand, Direct Connect, and start dedicating more sales resources to iDEN. In addition, it was going to launch more iDEN devices. Nevertheless, some believe Sprint's efforts are too little and too late.

Just days ago Sprint Nextel announced that wireless veteran Dan Hesse would be the firm's new CEO, replacing embattled Gary Forsee who left the company in October. Although Hesse had some success heading up AT&T Wireless in the late 1990s, many in the industry have expressed some doubts about whether he will be able to turn around the beleaguered operator. -Sue