RealTime IT News

Sprint Speed-Dialing Convergence, Verticals

NEW YORK -- As Sprint's network becomes more advanced and integrated, the telecom carrier is talking with enterprises about tailoring industry-specific applications, a senior executive said at the CeBIT America trade show here today.

"We are in the early stages of working with verticals to understand applications that are critical [to them]," said Kathy Walker, Sprint's executive vice president of network services.

For example, she said during her keynote address, the company recently closed a deal with an insurance carrier that allows claims adjustors to click a photo of a damaged car through a wireless handset and e-mail it back to their office system.

In addition to saving time and money, the application could speed the claims process, resulting in a differentiation in the eyes of the customer, Walker said. Sprint is working with a second insurer to integrate a proprietary application with its network.

Insurance is only one attractive vertical, Sprint spokesman John M. Polivka said. Others include the federal government, financial services and transportation.

Each brings unique requirements. For government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, a Sprint customer, safeguards against network threats are paramount.

"The government strikes the security drumbeat the hardest, and has shown a willingness to pay for it," said Walker, adding that Washington's vetting process provides a solid test case for Sprint to show other security-minded customers.

But the key to serving enterprises in any vertical is the network. The ultimate goal is "any-to-any" connectivity, Walker said, referring to the ability of any device to connect to any other in a network, regardless of location or access technology. This should take place with single authentication and an indication of user availability/presence.

To accomplish this, Sprint is making investments with convergence in mind. It's in the early stages of deploying Nortel softswitches to handle all kinds of traffic -- Voice over Internet Protocol , wireless, enterprise data, cable and local and long-distance voice.

The pact with Nortel, a Toronto-based equipment vendor, is non-exclusive. Sprint likes to have two or three vendors in its network, for competitive reasons as well as to encourage open standards. An additional vendor, or vendors, will likely be selected in coming months, Walker said.

Other softswitch providers include Cisco and Lucent , which made a big splash in the space with week with a $295 million purchase of privately held Telica.

Another part of the company's any-to-any strategy is to boost wireless access speeds.

Finally, Sprint, which competes with MCI and others, is keen on increasing network use by third parties, such as a recent deal with AT&T Wireless. Sprint also carries traffic from Virgin Mobile on its network. Walker said Sprint likes these agreements because most of the network investment has already been made.

While moving ahead with converged network, Sprint isn't turning away other business. It has extended a wholesale dial-up Internet access pact with United Online , which operates low-priced Internet access brands NetZero and Juno.

Still, Sprint is clearly focused on network convergence and making itself more useful to enterprise customers than telecom carriers have been in the past.

"The network has transformed the way we do business today -- it's no longer a pipe that just provides bandwidth," Walker said.