Inside Sprint’s Wi-Fi Strategy

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Over the past decade, investors, analysts and customers have fixated on Sprint’s cellular network, particularly its struggles to accommodate the smartphone boom. But it’s a mistake to overlook what Sprint is doing with Wi-Fi to improve coverage, expand its service portfolio, enhance its competitive position and minimize its postpaid churn, which is higher than those of its three largest rivals.

Sprint is no newcomer to Wi-Fi. Eleven years ago, for example, it struck a reciprocal roaming agreement with AT&T Wireless where the latter’s customers could get service at airports with Sprint hotspots. Sprint subsequently sold its Wi-Fi network to Boingo as part of a strategy that continues today: Instead of owning hotspots, Sprint primarily relies on aggregators and other partners. A recent exception is its plan to build a network with Cisco in its hometown of Kansas City.

Sprint considers Wi-Fi to be the fourth layer of its network, complementing its 1.9GHz, 2.5GHz and 800MHz licenses. A seamless, affordable user experience is key for encouraging usage and in turn alleviating the cellular network’s workload. That’s why beginning in April 2015, Sprint devices began automatically authenticating with Boingo’s 35 U.S. airport networks and providing service at no additional charge. This example illustrates one component of Sprint’s Wi-Fi business model: improving the customer experience by extending coverage without additional costs.

Sprint also is making it easier for customers to use Wi-Fi for calling rather than just data. More than 28 models of Sprint phones currently support Wi-Fi calling, including with native Passpoint support on Android and iOS devices. One notable limitation is the lack of seamless handoffs with cellular, which will discourage some customers. Sprint is focused on enabling this capability in home and office Wi-Fi networks by 2016, followed by public hotspots.
This example also illustrates the second component of Sprint’s Wi-Fi business model: leveraging customers’ home and office existing broadband services to enabling Wi-Fi calling. This strategy will be especially helpful in markets where Sprint has insufficient indoor coverage, capacity or both.

Sprint does not have a direct Wi-Fi monetization strategy. Its reliance on partners such as Boingo eliminates the overhead of building and operating hotspots while still providing the revenue opportunities and competitive advantages that come with offering Wi-Fi services to consumers and enterprises. One example is using Wi-Fi to cater to the Internet of Things market.

Sprint’s partnership strategy includes managed services that are bundled with business products. For example, in March, Sprint partnered with Ruckus and Cisco to launch Work Place as a Service, which provides enterprise Wi-Fi, SMS, presence, online collaboration, audio-video conferencing and other services.

More details about Sprint’s Wi-Fi strategy  along with many other operators can be accessed by clients at our online store.

About the Wi-Fi Intelligence Service

The Wireless Intelligence Service (WIS) is a market research initiative from Maravedis and Wi-Fi 360, to profile the carrier Wi-Fi strategies of the leading fixed and mobile operators worldwide. This unique service, which has the support of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, aims to help the carrier Wi-Fi industry to fill the gap in terms of market data and analysis regarding operator deployments. More information.

About Maravedis and Wi-Fi 360

Maravedis is a premier wireless infrastructure analyst firm. We help customers with reliable, unbiased and timely market analysis in the wireless infrastructure industry.  We focus on broadband wireless infrastructure (including LTE, carrier WiFi, small cells, core network and wireless backhaul) as well as industry spectrum regulations and operator trends.

Wi-Fi 360’s mission is to empower and inspire professionals to monetize the Wi-Fi opportunity. Wi-Fi 360 provides research and marketing services to the Wi-Fi industry. Wi-Fi 360 is a division of Maravedis.

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).