Sprint: We're not bringing back the Nextel brand

Sprint (NYSE:S) has no intention of bringing back the Nextel brand for enterprise customers, despite recent rumors to the contrary, the company confirmed to FierceWireless.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Matt Carter, president of Sprint Enterprise Solutions, at first declined to comment on the rumors, and then said that he hasn't "personally heard anything about that at all."

Sprint spokesman John Votava clarified and was more definitive: "There is no plan to bring back the Nextel brand."

In late December, TechCrunch reported that Sprint might be bringing back the Nextel brand to lure enterprise customers back into the fold. The report, which cited an unnamed source familiar with the company's plans, said the branding refresh could happen as soon as the first quarter of this year, as part of a larger push to woo business customers.

Sprint effectively killed the Nextel brand--and removed it from its corporate name--after shutting down the Nextel iDEN network in the middle of last year. In the shutdown, Sprint lost millions of subscribers, many of whom had so-called mixed accounts with both iDEN and CDMA devices. Carter said that Sprint is making a concerted, focused effort to convert as many of those mixed accounts to its CDMA network and to target former iDEN customers.

More broadly, in terms of Sprint's enterprise business, Carter said that Sprint parent SoftBank feels the enterprise market is "critically important" for the company, especially in terms of winning deals with global customers that both companies can serve. Japanese operator SoftBank owns around 80 percent of Sprint.

Carter said that SoftBank was where Sprint is now, as the No. 3 operator in its home market, going through a network technology transition. He said that SoftBank has a global view of the world and many customers that could turn into Sprint customers and partners. In terms of attacking the B2B market, Carter said "we're better archaeologists" meaning better at "digging around in the corporation" and finding out "how do we best position our portfolio of technological capabilities to help them to do it better, and much more efficiently?"

Carter also said that SoftBank is pushing Sprint to innovate more and bring that to bear in terms of the enterprise market.  At the forefront of that is Sprint Spark, the carrier's tri-band LTE service, which it is just getting off the ground. Announced in October, Spark is a wireless service that will work via the combination of Sprint's 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz LTE spectrum. The technology will combine Sprint's FDD-LTE network in its 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz spectrum and its planned TD-LTE network in its 2.5 GHz spectrum. Sprint also intends to use carrier aggregation technology in the 2.5 GHz band to implement Spark.

Sprint expects to cover 250 million POPs by mid-2014 on its 1900 MHz LTE spectrum. The company has also started deploying LTE in its 800 MHz spectrum, which was freed up from the closure of its Nextel iDEN network. Sprint aims to have 150 million POPs covered with 800 MHz LTE by the end of 2014. As for its 2.5 GHz spectrum, Sprint expects to cover 100 million POPs with 2.5 GHz LTE by the end of 2014. 

Sprint has launched Spark in the Texas cities of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, as well as in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Spark is now available in 11 markets (the other early markets are Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Tampa). Sprint has said it will bring the service to the top 100 U.S. markets during the next three years with speeds capable of reaching 50-60 Mbps and perhaps faster.

In the here and now though, Sprint badly trails market leader Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) in terms of LTE coverage. Verizon says its LTE network now covers 305 million POPs. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is not far behind at 270 million POPS covered with LTE and even T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) moved at a faster pace than Sprint last year to deploy LTE, and now covers 209 million POPs.

Carter acknowledged those realities but said he views the market dynamic as akin to how consumers might approach buying a new car. "Do you buy this year's model, knowing that next year's model is going to be better, different, more special?" Essentially, he argued, Sprint Spark will be a leap ahead of current technology, and enterprise customers would be better off waiting, or signing with Sprint knowing that Spark is coming.  

"We are finding that they are more interested in what we're building than in having this year's or last year's technology," he said, adding that Sprint will need to "keep painting the vision."

"Those that understand where we're going, what our network will be able to deliver for them, are saying, 'I'm waiting, I'm holding off or I'm signing this contract with you,'" he said.

Carter said Sprint's trump card with Spark is its 2.5 GHz spectrum, since Sprint controls 120 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in 90 of the top 100 U.S. markets.  "At some point, Verizon and AT&T are going to burst at the seams," and not be able to handle increasing data traffic. "These guys are not going to be able to have enough. In our case, given our spectrum position, we don't need to worry about it."

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