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#TBT: Challenges for the wireless web; Sprint flounders; WiMAX’s uncertain future … this week in 2008

Editor’s Note: RCR Wireless News goes all in for “Throwback Thursdays,” tapping into our archives to resuscitate the top headlines from the past. Fire up the time machine, put on the sepia-tinted shades, set the date for #TBT and enjoy the memories!

What’s the biggest challenge for the wireless web?

It is no secret in our industry that mobile Web presents limitless potential. It can be both a great source of revenue, and also an enjoyable, useful consumer resource. Because this topic is timely for so many, I thought in my first column in this space that I would address the primary challenges that face mobile Web. From my perspective, consumer awareness (about content availability and ways to access the content) is the biggest hurdle. Only about 12% of U.S. mobile users actively surf the mobile Web today, and the upside is tremendous. How many times have you heard someone say something like, “You mean I can really do that on a phone?” Even with many early-market limitations, mobile devices are a powerful enabler today for people who use them. A number of companies, especially in the media, financial services and travel industries, have already built user-friendly sites that reach millions of consumers every month. If we as an industry address and solve this issue together, customer growth will give us the resources to easily conquer any other obstacle. However, I also wanted to check with some industry counterparts on this subject. So I turned to INmobile, an online community of mobile executives, to get their perspectives. We asked, “What is the biggest mobile Web challenge that the industry needs to overcome?” Of the 30 respondents, 17% agree with me that it is awareness, but the majority, 53% believe that site design/usability is the biggest challenge, 23% identified walled gardens, and 3% believe that either advertising standards or networks speeds come first. … Read more

Sprint slashes jobs as it flounders

Sprint Nextel Corp. is continuing its battle to right a listing ship. The nation’s No. 3 carrier announced it would cut 4,000 jobs and close 8% of its stores after losing 683,000 postpaid subscribers and 202,000 prepaid users during the fourth quarter of last year. Analysts were somewhat prepared for the dire announcement with Cowen & Co. telecom analyst Tom Watts last week raising his estimates of the carrier’s postpaid net losses from 200,000 customers to 350,000 customers and predicting the carrier to lose nearly 1 million direct customers during the quarter. Sprint Nextel’s stock plunged more than 25% to $8.62 per share on the news, the stock’s lowest point in almost five years. Although Sprint Nextel said the move will save up to $800 million by the end of the year, it doesn’t appear to be calming nerves on Wall Street. This is the second time in a year that Sprint Nextel has cut thousands of jobs. The company laid off 5,000 employees in January 2007 after it reported significant losses on postpaid iDEN customers. The company counted about 60,000 employees before this latest cut, which is expected to be completed in the first half of the year. The company will be shuttering 125 company-owned retail locations and 4,000 third-party distribution points, it announced. The carrier currently counts 20,000 total distribution points, including nearly 1,400 company-owned stores. Sprint Nextel said the cuts will come from a variety of internal positions throughout the company, including management. … Read more

Wall Street waits for a 3G iPhone

Having sent Apple Inc.’s stock steadily skyward in recent months, Wall Street turned on the company like a wounded hyena last week after CEO Steve Jobs issued a handful of product announcements at the MacWorld 2008 conference that apparently failed to sustain the momentum. After Jobs’ keynote speech, in which he offered a suite of new software for the iPhone, a skinny notebook with limited features and an intriguing movie-rental play, traders sent the stock on a crazy, up-and-down ride that went mostly down, then steadied out after three days at $163.30 midday Friday, below its pre-keynote high of about $177. Jobs told CNBC last week that his company’s stock price “goes up one day and down the next day” and was “not what we live and die for.” Consumers would continue to buy Apple products “even if there’s a downturn,” Jobs said. “The market was expecting something spectacular, but didn’t see it,” said analyst Rob Enderle at Enderle Group. Certainly, AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson’s remark late last year that a 3G iPhone would arrive in 2008 had stoked expectations. Enderle said that when that refresh comes, it will be parsed for implications for Apple’s direction in wireless. The analyst said he expected a multi-pronged approach to iPhone-related products about mid-year. … Read more

WiMAX’s future uncertain after Sprint, Clearwire break up

Despite the unceremonious break-up that shattered plans for a nationwide mobile WiMAX network partnership between Sprint Nextel Corp. and Clearwire Corp., both companies insist their rollout plans for 2008 are on track. However, plans for some markets are being revisited now that both companies no longer plan to share spectrum and infrastructure resources. While both companies are looking ahead to commercial deployments, trials continue to be studied. Sprint Nextel launched its three-city Xohm service trial in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago. Since then, several hundred employees have been using WiMAX connection cards and modem equipment to put the network through its paces in a variety of challenging areas, said John Polivka at Sprint Nextel Xohm’s public-relations team. “The intent is to further optimize the network for the best possible customer experience” when commercial service launches begin in the middle of next quarter, he said. The three “soft launch” cities will be the first markets to go live with commercial service, he added. “Later this quarter we will have information about further deployments.” Xohm wouldn’t release details about the number of cell towers being used in each of the locales (or the area covered), saying that any number published today would likely change by week’s end. “The cell infrastructure within markets is growing weekly,” Polivka said. … Read more

Before QR codes, there were … barcodes!

Few mobile offerings have a longer – or more uninspiring – history in the United States than barcodes. But the odd-looking little images may finally be going somewhere. One of the first consumer-facing mobile barcode applications in the United States came to market about 10 years ago, when GoAmerica Communications Corp. began testing a service that allowed wireless consumers to comparison-shop from Internet-enabled phones. But mobile barcodes stumbled out of the gate thanks to a host of challenges including poor MMS interoperability and a lack of feature-rich phones. “I think the real roadblock has been people purchasing phones that don’t have WAP capability,” according to Fred Boos, CEO of RocketBux Inc. “When we first started, we only had something like 7% of phones that had WAP capability and people using it. Something like 58% of phones that are sold today have data plans.”
A Bend, Ore.-based startup that develops mcommerce offerings, RocketBux last week launched its first public barcode service with the Mt. Bachelor ski resort. The company sends ski conditions via a daily text alert to roughly 1,000 winter sports enthusiasts; a link at the bottom of the alert directs users to a barcode coupon that can be redeemed on the mountain. Boos said he couldn’t disclose exact figures, but the effort has resulted in “good conversion rates,” and the company plans to expand the service to other Bend-area merchants. … Read more

Check out the RCR Wireless News Archives for more stories from the past.

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