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Sprint JV 'pilots' will rollout by year-end

Tue, 04/11/2006 - 7:45am
Gary Arlen, Special to CED

Atlanta—"Pilot" field trials of the multimedia triple- (or quadruple-) play joint venture of four MSOs and Sprint/Nextel will begin in seven markets by late 2006.

Two of the cable partners have indicated their intended markets: Comcast in Portland, Ore.; and Time Warner Cable in Austin and Raleigh. Cox Communications and Bright House Networks executives told CED that they will identify their participating markets by summer. Among the criteria for choosing the cable systems will be a strong Sprint wireless presence in these communities.

At a Monday session here at The National Show, John Garcia of Sprint/Nextel and president of the joint venture, revealed that the partners are looking toward eventual use of Broadband Radio Service (BRS), a wireless spectrum space in the 2.5 GHz range for future services; Sprint plans to rollout the BRS service nationwide. He said that the objective of the joint venture is to "synchronize the introduction of compelling, innovative convergence features."

The five-partner venture, which was unveiled last autumn, will accept more MSO partners, although no schedule has been established, Garcia said. The consortium is half owned by Sprint, which has contributed half of the three-year $200 million initial funding.

The "Into Thin Air" session served as a progress report on the group's first three months of activities. More than 100 people - mostly drawn from the partner companies - are working in 11 teams, focusing on potential markets, integrated services and handsets, according to Mimi Thigpen, VP-Strategy at Cox. She said that initial handsets will be a subset of the phones and multimedia devices now used by Sprint.

Tom Nagel, senior VP of wireless services at Comcast, emphasized that the group's mantra is "Be flexible, no sacred cows."

"It is critical that we do both of these," he said, in order to develop services that will compete with incumbent telephone companies. Nagel said that Version 1 of the JV's project will leverage existing capabilities -- "things we can get out quickly." Version 2 will "implement completely new technology," he added, offering no timetable or forecasts about what the next generation products and services might include.

"We've made more progress in the first 100 days of this (venture) than any other JV I've (worked) on," Nagel said.

Panelists acknowledged that the current work teams are focusing on fundamental issues such as design of network requirements, billing, sales and customer care. There are also groups working on a common user interface, converged applications and a peered operating system. Nagel said that the venture will start peering through IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) technology, which "will simplify" the development process.

Garcia characterized one objective of the development process: "To deepen the relationship that (customers) already have with these devices," referring to existing home and mobile equipment.

Nagel echoed that view, saying, "We want to take what we have inside the home and leverage Sprint's ability outside the home." But he warned that "chunks of the network are still missing," referring to infrastructure that must be built to handle the multimedia agenda.

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