Position: CEO, Sprint Nextel
Location: Overland Park, Kans.
Dan Hesse took the reins of a beleaguered Sprint at the end of last year. In the wake of what is widely considered a botched merger with Nextel overseen by his predecessor, Hesse was charged with stanching Sprint’s customer bleed. His plans to restore the carrier’s luster may well have repercussions across the whole of the mobile industry.
Sprint is the only American carrier with a substantial investment in Mobile WiMAX, a service it dubbed Xohm (pronounced “zome”). “What Xohm will do is give us a two-year-plus head start on fourth generation [wireless],” Hesse said. The company recently agreed to combine its WiMAX wireless broadband business with Clearwire, targeting a network deployment that will cover between 120 million and 140 million people in the U.S. by the end of 2010. Intel, along with Google, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks, have invested a combined $3.2 billion into the new company. Sprint will have a 51 percent stake in the joint venture.
In the short term, Hesse is optimistic about Sprint’s present mobile broadband offerings. “We offer the fastest speeds available on the largest wireless broadband network,” Hesse said of the company’s EV-DO Rev. A network. “We’re the leader in 3G, and we’re going to extend that lead when we launch 4G,” he said, adding that Xohm will enable throughput of up to 2 to 4 megabits per second.
Assuming the launch doesn’t slip any further, WiMAX will enable a fundamentally different kind of relationship between the customer and carrier. Rather than focusing on selling WiMAX-enabled handsets, Hesse expects many consumer devices to feature embedded WiMAX chips. “So when you go to the store and buy a new PC or camera or whatever, an embedded chip is a great model to have, where a customer can just sign up for service,” he said.
Rather than manage every level of the experience, from device hardware to software applications to the network, Sprint is saying: Go ahead and buy whatever you want, and we’ll let you connect to the Internet and do anything. “A lot of developers and companies are joining the WiMAX ecosystem with us because of its open nature, and they’re concerned that LTE, the other 4G standard coming later, will continue to be a walled garden that carriers control,” Hesse said.
Hesse also led Sprint through a landmark period of price-structure change in the industry, with all the major carriers suddenly offering some variety of flat-rate pricing plan. But Sprint went further than the rest by including data in its Simply Everything plan, which may shape where the industry as a whole is going. “Look at Simply Everything and what the others have offered, which is very ’90s, if you will, with just unlimited talking,” Hesse noted, adding that he expects Sprint’s unlimited plan to encourage unfettered usage of smart phone functionality that “people today don’t use because it’s too expensive or [the pricing is] too complex.”
Hesse is even attempting to take on the iPhone with the Instinct by Samsung, a touchscreen device that offers not only Rev. A data speeds but a fully customizable favorites menu, haptic feedback, and GPS navigation—all wrapped up in a sleek design that will presumably cost much less than Apple’s iconic device.
With Hesse at the helm, Sprint is the only carrier positioned to make 4G a reality sooner rather than much later—even with the much-publicized delays—and his attitude toward pricing and openness bode very well for mobile data users.
Did You Know: Hesse is an old-school audiophile. “In terms of sound, there’s nothing like a really well-cut vinyl disk played on a great [turn]table with a great cartridge,” he said. He likens an MP3 to “fingernails on a blackboard.”