Sprint CEO: The Future Is Open (to Speed)

LAS VEGAS — After only six months on the job as President and CEO at Sprint Nextel, Dan Hesse figures he’s in great shape.

“It’s a great time to be in the wireless industry,” Hesse told the audience. “Today there is one cell phone for every 2 people on Earth. Mobile’s best days may still be ahead with data usage on the rise.”

In an expansive keynote address at the NXTcomm trade show Hesse detailed what Sprint Nextel is doing now and where he plans on taking it moving forward. He also used his turn at the podium to poke rival AT&T’s 3G iPhone initiative in the eye.

Hesse noted that Sprint Nextel has the largest data network in America and it covers more areas in the US than any other carrier.

“One carrier has announced a new hot 3G device, “Hesse said hinting at AT&T’s iPhone efforts. “But their coverage is limited so users may be disappointed.”

Though Sprint Nextel is known as a wireless carrier, Hesse emphasized the fact that their fiber optical wireline network is one of the great strengths that enables the wireless network in the first place.

But for the future of Sprint Nextel, Hesse is placing all his bets on WiMAX.

“Nothing will define our Now Network like WiMAX,” Hesse said. “WiMAX is wireless at rocket speed and we believe we have a two year head start on competition.”

Hesse noted that the involvement of Intel producing WiMAX chips that could be embedded into millions of device is something that changes the game.

“We believe that WiMAX is on track to revolutionize communications,” Hesse commented. “The embedded chip model lets us break out and have all wireless devices work on one network.”

The key to Sprint’s position is its large stake in the new Clearwire WiMAX carrier which was announced in May. Clearwire is a massive, $14.5 billion joint venture to create a national WiMAX carrier that also involves Intel, Google, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

Hesse noted that a key value proposition of the new WiMAX network is that it will be based on open standards and will not be a walled garden approach.

“In a closed environment innovation can be stifled and we won’t allow that to happen,” Hesse said.

He said the plan is to allow users to be able to download any safe content they desire. Opening up the handset market is also key. Hesse noted that as a charter member of the OHA (open handset alliance) will push wireless further than ever before. The OHA is a Google led initiative for an open mobile platform.

“We believe our Now network differentiates us in a crowded field,” Hesse concluded. “WiMAX will redefine Now in the mobile space and we’ll do it in an open manner.”

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