Los Angeles Times

For Sprint PCS, it has pretty much come down to this: Make it big in wireless data, or prepare to be eaten.

William Esrey, chairman of parent Sprint Corp., prefers the former and is pressing ahead with aggressive upgrades that by July would produce the fastest coast-to-coast mobile data network system in the country.

For Kansas City, Mo.-based Sprint PCS, the upgrades represent its first real chance to catch up to the wireless giants that lead the U.S. market: Verizon Wireless, Cingular Wireless and AT&ampT Wireless. Sprint PCS” growth so far has been impressive, giving it a subscriber base that quintupled in the last five years to 14.4 million customers.

But in the booming U.S. wireless market, that”s only good enough for fourth place. Verizon Wireless, the market leader, has more than twice as many customers, with 30 million.

Analysts expect the U.S. wireless industry to consolidate into two or three giant carriers, and they believe that Sprint PCS must move up the food chain in a hurry if it wants to be one of the survivors.

If Esrey is rattled, it isn”t showing. Sprint PCS has converted two-thirds of its network to handle data at higher speeds, and that progress makes him nearly giddy over what he calls a “substantial” lead in the race toward third-generation mobile phone services. In the long-heralded 3G era, wireless connections can handle everything from video to e-mail attachments with relative ease.

“We”re going to be there, nationwide, in July, and other people can”t get there yet, so we will have one whale of a competitive advantage,” Esrey said. “There are very few times in business when you get to stand on a mountain and look around, and not see a bunch of troops coming up behind you.”

Analysts agree that Sprint PCS is ahead of the pack and has meaningful advantages in coming wireless data services. But it”s unclear if that will be enough.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.