Sprint backs iDen, adds news features

Company dogged by speculation about sale of iDen, its WiMax plans

Sprint Nextel Corp. CEO Dan Hesse today stomped out market speculation that the carrier might sell the Nextel Direct Connect iDen network and announced an expanded technology for Direct Connect called "push-to-x."

Hesse, who was named CEO on Dec. 18, said in a statement that "customers can expect to see continued investment" in iDen (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network) and even new iDen handsets. Hesse became CEO after the resignation of Gary Forsee, who left after the company reported several quarters of poor financial results and the loss of more than 300,000 subscribers from the third largest wireless carrier.

Investors have been curious to see how Hesse's moves would affect Sprint's plans for a new WiMax network called Xohm and in other areas. They have also been waiting for a general statement about the company's direction.

"Hesse's strategy is coming into motion" with the iDen news, spokesman John Polivka said in an interview.

But Polivka downplayed a story in The Wall Street Journal today that said Sprint had revived discussions with WiMax start-up Clearwire Corp. The report, which quoted unnamed sources, said the talks involved forming a joint venture to bring in funding for the WiMax multibillion-dollar rollout from companies such as Google Inc., Intel Corp. and Best Buy Co.

"That report is just a lot of speculation," Polivka said, noting that the article itself noted that there's no guarantee a joint venture will materialize.

However, Xohm President Barry West told Computerworld in January that Sprint was talking to potential investment partners for Xohm in an arrangement in which Sprint would remain the major owner of Xohm and sell WiMax bandwidth wholesale. At that time, West said one or more investors would be named in February or March.

Hesse's strong support today of iDen is directly tied to financial analysts' worries about WiMax investments and the overall health of Sprint. Nextel's iDen technology had lost customers and had proved difficult to integrate since Sprint bought Nextel in 2005.

"They've lost so much from iDen defections [that] they don't really have the money to invest in WiMax," said Nadine Manjaro, a senior analyst at ABI Research, in comments to the IDG News Service.

In a statement, Sprint said its new push-to-x capability gives a user the ability to instantly send a text message or image, similar to the existing push-to-talk capabilities of Direct Connect. Sprint recently introduced two Direct Connect handsets, the i335 and the i570, both from Motorola Corp.

The iDen network has shown technical improvements in the past year as well, Sprint said. Customer complaints about dropped and blocked calls and voice quality fell more than 60% since December 2006, the company said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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