Web Access on Your Phone
Friday, October 22, 1999, at 1 p.m.
Have you ever wanted to read Yahoo on a park bench? Thanks to modern technology, you can now surf the Web on a screen albeit on a screen the size of four postage stamps from a wireless phone. Fast Forward reviews Sprint PCS's Wireless Web service this Friday.
With us to talk about it is John Yuzdepski, Sprint's vice president of product management and development. John heads up Sprint's wireless efforts and can talk about how wireless Internet access works, where the technology is at now, and where it's headed in the future.
Greetings and salutations... we're here to talk about wireless Internet access with John Yuzdepski of Sprint. It's a promising, exceedingly cool technology--but as our John Schwartz writes in today's FFWD, there's still glitches to work out. Proof? Well, I'm at a desk in front of a very non-wireless computer, and I suspect John is too.
Anyway, on with the show...
College Park, MD: Please explain the usefulness of this technology. Is this just another toy like so many of the gadgets are now. What good is a screen the size of "four postage stamps"? I guess I don't understand the need to be "connected" all the time.
Rob Pegoraro: Hey, what's wrong with toys? :) Still, C.P. raises a good point here. Who's the target market here, John? Who needs this? (as opposed to wants it...)
John Yuzdepski: We envision the Sprint PCS Wireless Web as a complement to existing desktop and Internet-based connections, not a replacement. When you're a business traveler or a busy parent, being able to stay in touch with key information is crucial. Our target audience is both general consumer and business as we see varied applications.
Rob Pegoraro: John, one thing we didn't address in the article was the higher-speed wireless connection speeds that are starting to come online in parts of Europe. Why is there this technology lag? When do we catch up here in the states?
John Yuzdepski: Indeed, our current connection is 14.4 kbps and in 2000, we will be deploying compression technologies that can effectively double this speed. Our plans beyond that include technology enhancements that will increase our speed ten-fold.
Silver spring, MD: given the limitations of the screen size and graphics, as well as the speed, why would I want to purchase a new phone when I can subscribe to "news flash" type services and use text-messaging with the phones I have from two of your comptetitors?
John Yuzdepski: Because our Internet-ready phones are interactive which allows you query wireless Internet content at will. As the number of HDML-formatted sites continues to grow, the possibilities are virtually unlimited with regard to content.
Louisville, KY: Hi John, how fast do you see the data rates going in the future? Will Sprint PCS be involved with Qualcomm's HDR technology -High Data Rate-? Thanks for taking my question.
John Yuzdepski: Our current plans are to logically increase our data rates to 144-365 kbps. As well, we are looking at a few high-speed (1+ megabit) technologies for the future. Our plans will ensure that we meet our customers' desires for Internet connectivity.
Rob Pegoraro: John, what kind of work does it take for a site to format itself in HDML? Is it a matter of running the existing HTML through some kind of text-editing Cuisinart, or rewriting parts of it from scratch?
John Yuzdepski: We find that some of the best content sites have reengineered portions of their sites to take advantage of the best features of HDML. Developers who are interested in moving their content to HDML are welcome to give our developer support program a call at 816-559-2721. Also, sites like Phone.com offer HDML conversion dowload programs for developers, too.
On Hold, USA: Morning Rob, nice article on OS 9... Now on to my Sprint question. My father's spectrum is about to be disconnected. Fine we were gonna move over to PCS. I looked at the materials and the 3 phone you can get for "free" are reconditioned and slightly larger than our sprint handset. These also appear to be the only ones you can get from sprint through the mail. Is there a way to order another handset, use the $50 credit and get a bill from Sprint for the difference? The stores are out of everything and are a mad house, customer service tells me it'll be approxiametly 1.5 hour wait at 11pm on a FRIDAY NIGHT to talk to a human, so they can't answer my question. I started trying to get this thing switched over 2 days after we got the info packet and am now ready to throw said soon to be useless handset into the Reservoir and switch to Bell At. or even Nextel.
Rob Pegoraro: Hmm, might be a tough crowd here... Your response, John?
John Yuzdepski: Unfortunately, I am not a local representative who can answer all of these questions. I am more than willing to look into this if you'd like to provide a telephone # where you can be reached or email address.
Rob Pegoraro: When you talk about going to 1 mbps access, that starts to become real competition for cable and ADSL--depending on the ultimate price, naturally. I'm not sure I'd need to, say, download the latest copy of Netscape from a park bench--but I could definitely use that speed at home. Does Sprint have any plans for offing "fixed wireless" services at these kinds of connection speeds?
John Yuzdepski: At Sprint, as a company, we have have a family of wireless offerings and we are constantly seeking to make sure this portfolio meets our customers' needs. Technologies like fixed wireless are something that we are very interested in and we continue to research this area.
A follow-up on HDML: Suppose I have a personal Web site (well, I don't now). Suppose it's something that lots of people will want to see (a big if...). What would be my options for offering an HDML version of that? Are we talking about $500 conversion programs or something closer to, say, free?
John Yuzdepski: One thing we have noticed are that so many "tools" are free these days that we can imagine HDML can be obtained with very little cost. I'm sure that there are free downloads on the Internet as wireless applications become pervasive.
Frederick, MD: So your target audience is everybody, what is it you expect them to do with it?
Rob Pegoraro: I suppose whatever it is they're doing with the Internet on their wireline connections... That does raise an interesting question, though: What kind of usage patterns are you all seeing with the first round of wireless-Web customers? Do people stay on "line" all the time, or do they only use the Web access a couple of times in any given day?
John Yuzdepski: What strikes most people about the Internet is its power to innovate. Already, we are seeing incredibly useful and exciting applications for the technology we've just launched. We are working to harness this innovation and bring value to business and consumers. For instance, a business may find that remote order form processing is value to its field sales staff; whereas, a general consumer might like to trade stocks via their Ameritrade account. Both will be possible.
How many phones in the current Sprint lineup include this "microbrowser"? Are they all in the same price range as the Neopoint we reviewed today?
John Yuzdepski: By year end, there will be approximately 10 phones with the MiniBrowser in them. Currently, there are about six that range in price from $99 to $399 to $799 (PDQ Phone has a Palm Pilot built in).
About half an hour in our wireless Web discussion... keep sending in those questions, wirelessly or not...
Let's look at the laptop-connection angle John Schwartz wrote about. How many people are buying a wireless Web phone for that, as opposed to looking at Yahoo on an 11-line screen? (It seems that the phones get cheaper if you don't need a browser included).
John Yuzdepski: The overwhelming majority of our national business accounts have requested data connectivity as part of their agreement with Sprint PCS. We see the "modem-in-phone" application as being primarily a business product. Certainly, this is where the early adoptors are -- they're calling us because Sprint PCS has the nation's largest all-digital, all-PCS wireless network and this product plays to that strength.
Rob Pegoraro: Over the past month, we've reviewed the Palm VII and Sprint's Web phone. Of the two, the Palm VII is several million times easier to use--but, of course, you can't speak through it. What's your pitch to somebody trying to choose between a Palm VII (or equivalent) and something like the Neopoint for their wireless Internet access?
John Yuzdepski: I think, Rob, that these products serve different uses. The Palm VII is a data-centric device, while the Neopoint is a voice-centric device with data capabilities. I think over time, the divisions will blur as we have seen with the PDQ and new devices that are currently under development in the lab. Smaller, lower-cost, longer battery life is where this market continues to head. Remember your first phone..? Big wasn't it..?
Washington DC: When will Sprint go to flat rate pricing? Or will we always have to pay by the bit?
John Yuzdepski: The Internet has been successful in promoting the flat-rate paradigm but given that wireless technologies operate differently this is something that may not be seen immediately. However, the future holds higher and higher data rates and perhaps we'll see this scenario changing one day.
A little-known fact: I don't own a cell phone! The cordless phone at home is rather large, though :)
John Yuzdepski: Rob, I inivite you to come to Kansas City and see some of the extraordinarily cool things that are coming. While you are here, we'll fix your phone depravation problem. :-)
Dale City, Va.: How extensive is this wireless Web coverage outside of downtown? Is this available anywhere a regular PCS phone works? -I've had trouble using mine off I-95.-
Rob Pegoraro: I'm not sure if John can answer that particular question, but what about the general point: Do you get Internet access anywhere you're picking up the CDMA (oops, sorry about the jargon) signal?
John Yuzdepski: The Wireless Web works across our CDMA network. You can access coverage maps of your local area from our website at www.sprintpcs.com.
Rob Pegoraro: OK, that's too many uses of the word "paradigm" outside of a think tank. But still: this fellow raises a valid point. So much stuff is being given away for free on the Net, while so many other things--of comparable complexity and cost, you could argue--come at a remarkably higher cost in other telecom markets. I suppose part of the difference is that there are more gullible venture capitalists around to finance Internet startups...
John Yuzdepski: Wireless is different than the wired world. Spectrum is limited, and certainly more expensive, and while capacity is increasing, we in the wireless Internet space, operate under a differenct cost model than the wired Internet.
Follow-up of my own: We keep seeing more and more people on wireless phones, but they haven't added any more electromagnetic spectrum lately. As any reporter who's tried to use a phone from a trade-show floor knows, when too many people are on, your call just isn't going to happen. What kind of risk is there of maxing out a wireless network?
John Yuzdepski: Good question, Rob. At Sprint PCS we purchased a large amount of spectrum, and we are using only a small amount of it at this time. Addtionally, we have RF engineering technicques that allow us to "cell split" which enables us to add capacity where it is required. We built the Sprint PCS nationwide wireless network with the intention that data and the Wireless Web would be a part of our future.
Follow follow follow up
John Yuzdepski: Currently you can access the Wireless Web for less than $10 per month. We offer a variety of plans depending on your need for mobile voice and Internet communications.
Thanks, John. We're out of time for today, but I'll be back next week, when our fourth (!) annual guide to Internet service providers runs. We'll be talking all about providers--shopping for them, picking one of them, when you should ditch them, and so on. See you then...
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