December 10, 2010

Sprint Hopes To Expand Into Tablet Market

Sprint Nextel Corp is looking to expand its tablet computer market in 2011 hoping to lure business customers that want to replace expensive laptops with lower cost devices, according to an executive with the No. 3 US mobile company.

Paget Alves, president of Sprint Nextel's business markets, said Thursday that tablet computers are the hottest new gadgets among corporate clients.

"There's a lot of interest in tablets, a greater degree of interest and faster adoption than I've seen in any other product ... I can't think of anything that's moved this quickly," Alves told Reuters.

He said businesses are looking to replace notebooks with tablets for employees such as salespeople who need to view corporate info such as spreadsheets, but are not involved in creating those documents themselves.

"Those users, which are the majority of service companies employees, can easily be accommodated by a tablet and therefore they end up with a cheaper alternative to the notebook," said Alves.

Since Apple introduced the first tablet computer earlier this year -- the iPad, -- rival companies such as RIM and Samsung have been racing to get tablets of their own onto the market.

In his interview with Reuters, Alves said chief information officers (CIOs) have been asking him about RIM's PlayBook tablet, due out in 2011 to the general public, but stopped short of saying Sprint would offer the gadget.

Many companies use BlackBerry because of its mobile email service, which RIM supports on its own servers.

"I've met with a fair number of CIOs who've a strong relationship with RIM and have the interest in something that's complementary to the server based BlackBerry service," Alves said.

But he said these execs are reserving judgment until they try out the PlayBook.

"There is interest (in PlayBook), but until there's more information available and they have the opportunity to try the product, it's a little early to tell," he said.

Alves told Reuters he expects as many as 12 new tablets to be unveiled at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January. He said that while Sprint Nextel would not carry all of these devices, it will broaden its selection well beyond the Samsung Galaxy, which it now offers.

"We expect to have a broad portfolio of tablets in 2011," Alves said.

Analysts estimate that RIM will ship between 2 and 4 million PlayBook tablets in fiscal 2012, which begins in late February 2011. Apple has sold 7 million iPads since its launch in April and analysts expect another 5 million over the holidays to be sold.

Sprint is also planning to revamp its network in 2011, including shutting down its older Nextel network, which is mostly used by business customers because of its walkie-talkie service, but has been bleeding customers in recent years.

The shutdown of Nextel will mean Alves will have the challenge of convincing the nearly 6 million business customers who use Nextel to move to Sprint's more modern CDMA network, which offers data services such as wireless Internet.


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