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VON: Applications trump network, Sprint VP says


San Jose – The wireless industry is moving from an environment where the network was key to one in which applications and content reign, according to Ben Vos, vice president of core technologies at Sprint Nextel.

In a keynote addressing the VON.x crowd today, Vos said a crossroad lies ahead for Sprint. The company needs to deliver a seamless, ubiquitous, simple experience that includes convergence across any device on any network, he said. This new requirement calls for both a new level of openness in the industry as well as a new business model.

“There was a lot of focus on voice as the primary driver, with add-on applications around voice, ending with a Swiss army type of device,” Vos said. “It was optimized around voice but could do other things okay. The value proposition was around the network – its ability to deliver capabilities and enable applications. Things are moving to the mobile Internet model. We think it’s where the future of the industry needs to be focused. Content and applications are what is going to be most important to the satisfaction of the end user as they seek to have that satisfying and enriching experience.”

To the end user, openness translates to taking the device they buy to any distribution channel and picking their provider to get the connectivity they need, Vos said. Because of this, the industry needs inexpensive, high-performance chip sets. As such, Sprint is moving away from the “Swiss army” model mobile handset to an Internet mobile model focused on embedded chipset capabilities.

According to Vos, Sprint is also at a crossroads in terms of its WiMax venture.

“We wanted to absolutely take full advantage of that spectrum and differentiate ourselves from our competitors, and we wanted to do that quickly,” Vos said. “The immediate availability of mobile WiMax made it the obvious choice for us. At the same time, we realized this needed to be bigger than just a US play. We wanted to encourage the notion of an open ecosystem.”

Traction for WiMax has been greatest outside of the US, with South Asia and India leading the way. Most recently, Tata Communications became the second major operator to deploy WiMax in India and the third on the subcontinent. Vos said that Sprint will continue to invest in its legacy networks and is focused on expanding the addressable market of customers it can reach – something it could not cost-effectively do with 3G technologies.

“This is about a graceful merger of 4G into the rest of the business and one where we’ll be seeking to leverage learning in the 4G space and push them towards what we do with 3G, and leveraging 3G learning to push that towards what we do with 4G,” Vos said.

While Vos’s keynote did delve into why Sprint is choosing to deploy WiMax, he stayed away from the topics on most attendees’ minds, including a rumored Sprint buyout and potential investors for its WiMax Xohm build out. At the upcoming CTIA conference in Las Vegas, new Sprint CEO Dan Hesse will take the stage, delivering a keynote address many hope will pick up where Vos left off.


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