Sprint Sticks with iDEN, Push-to-Talk Customers
Sprint Nextel will pour more money into the iDEN network it inherited from Nextel, coming out with new handsets and adding features to its popular push-to-talk system.
The struggling mobile operator, whose subscriber base is third-largest in the U.S. but declining, has been operating two networks since the merger of Sprint and Nextel Communications in 2005. The new company then said it would cap off investment in iDEN after the end of 2007. But even though Sprint is losing subscribers faster on iDEN than on its CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network and average revenue per iDEN user is falling, the company last year said it would keep investing in the network until at least 2012.
On Tuesday, Sprint reiterated its commitment to iDEN, saying customers would see continued investment and new features. The announcement, in a news release, came about a week after the latest management shakeup at Sprint. The company's chief financial officer, chief marketing officer and sales chief resigned last Thursday.
iDEN weighs down an already ailing carrier that is simultaneously gearing up to start a third network using new WiMax wireless broadband technology, according to IDC analyst Godfrey Chua. While rivals Verizon and AT&T prepare for a February shutdown of their aging analog networks, and in AT&T's case an older digital technology called TDMA (Time-Division Multiple Access), Sprint holds on to iDEN because it needs the subscribers, he said. Those include many loyal businesses that rely on the network's Direct Connect push-to-talk technology, Chua said.
"It just hasn't been as easy for Sprint to consolidate its network architecture as it has been for AT&T," Chua said.
Sprint had 18.7 million customers on iDEN versus about 34.1 million on CDMA at the end of the third quarter of 2007, the latest period for which Sprint has announced financial results. About 1.2 million customers use PowerSource phones, which include iDEN and CDMA technology. Between postpaid Nextel service and prepaid Boost Mobile, a separate youth-oriented offering, Sprint suffered a net loss of about 757,000 iDEN users in the quarter, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
Direct Connect isn't standing still. The more immediate change, coming early this year, will be the introduction of a long-awaited push-to-talk system for Sprint's CDMA customers. It will work on a set of new CDMA handsets, and people will be able to use it between those new phones and all existing iDEN devices, she said.
Building on the combination of Direct Connect and Sprint Mobile Broadband services, Sprint is planning new features such as "push-to-x," which will let people send text messages, images and other data through a simpler process than current messaging systems, said spokeswoman Stephanie Greenwood.
Even as Sprint's CDMA-based push-to-talk has faced delays, rivals edged in on the feature, which Nextel pioneered. AT&T Wireless has had push-to-talk for about two years, according to spokesman Mark Siegel. Verizon Wireless announced the launch of a push-to-talk service in 2003, though a search of its Web site indicated the carrier only sells one or two handsets for it.
While restating its commitment to iDEN on Wednesday, Sprint highlighted two handsets recently introduced for the network. The Motorola i570, introduced this month, is designed for tough environments and offers voice-activated dialing and one-touch shortcuts to phone features. The Motorola i335, introduced last November, is built to military specifications for dust, shock and vibration.