Times Are Tough, but Sprint Holds Its Own

Carl Weinschenk
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Confusion and Skepticism May Impede 4G Adoption

With so many potential 4G customers expressing concerns about cost and performance providers may be in for some disappointment.

Sprint, despite its challenges, does some interesting things. One service that could be a winner - and which scores points for innovation - is the new 4G Fixed Business Access.

The idea is pretty simple: Wireline networks go down on a fairly regular basis. This is particularly true today, since many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are served by cable operators' VoIP services. MSOs provide battery backup, which is fine for short outages. They don't, however, match up for longer outages against legacy phone networks that are powered through the phone networks themselves and therefore can operate even when the home or business power is out. Ultimately, VoIP networks rely on premise power for ongoing operations. The Sprint platform, which is offered through Sprint Whole Solutions mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) business, offers an LTE backup platform that obviates some of the concern.

One of the bigger potential customer groups for the MVNO figures to be cable company clients. That's a bit ironic, since Sprint traditionally has been the closest legacy phone company ally of the cable industry.

Sprint, for instance, partnered with Cox Cable on a wireless service. That project apparently is coming to an end. Initially, Cox had entered the phone business itself. It soon concluded, however, that it was not capable of mounting a competitive service on its own network and started using Sprint's. This week, the cable operator pulled the plug on the MVNO operation. Huffington Post reports that Cox Wireless was available to about half of the MSO's 4.8 million cable television subscriber footprint, including northern Virginia, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

Sprint, a phone company that often gets lost amid the higher profile of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, holds its own in quality measures. Metrico Wireless recently completed a large test of iPhone 4S data and voice performance on AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint networks. There was no ultimate winner named in the test, which follows a more general test the company ran earlier this year. According to Computerworld, AT&T came out ahead in more categories. Sprint did have its moment in the sun, however:

iPhone newcomer Sprint was found to be superior with its iPhone 4S for network voice quality on the uplink (when the user is speaking), but Sprint was also about five times slower in Web browsing and data downloads than AT&T, according to the study released Friday by Metrico Wireless, a mobile performance measurement company. Verizon finished in the middle on those data tests, but trailed the other two carriers in voice quality.

Sprint, as the third biggest carrier, always is in a precarious position. Innovations - such as the willingness to work with cable operators and to serve as a wireline backup service - position it to survive, if not thrive.

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