Sprint emerges as first carrier to test iPhone

IXC auditions telephone/Internet combo: Sprint emerges as first carrier to test iPhone

Chris Bucholtz

Sprint has become the first carrier to make a hands-on evaluation of an appliance that would let end users access the Internet from the same device they use to make telephone calls.

Sprint and the makers of the iPhone – InfoGear Technology Corp. and Cidco – announced the testing agreement at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. Sprint will conduct a limited test first among its employees and then with a small group of consumers during the first half of the year, said Steve Dykes, director of marketing and business development at Sprint.

“We’re hoping for a third quarter commercial shipment of the product,” said James Greenway, vice president of marketing for the Redwood City, Calif.-based InfoGear, which developed the device’s architecture and interface.

The iPhone has a 7-inch grayscale LCD screen built into the base that provides a touch-screen interface to help users quickly navigate the Internet. The device gains Internet access as soon as it is plugged in to a wall jack (Telephony, Nov. 18, 1996, page 78).

“We’re in discussions with several other major carriers, and we expect those discussions to accelerate now because the product is real and ready to run,” he said.

Under InfoGear’s business model, carriers will subsidize the devices and distribute them to users, recouping their investment through Internet access fees and revenues from new communications and messaging services.

The product’s interface can be customized to emphasize local content to show reluctant Web surfers that important information is quickly and easily available.

“The interface isn’t something we’d hand control of over to a telco or an [Internet service provider],” said Greenway. “We’re sticking to our knitting – marketing and distribution are fields that the carriers have already mastered, so we’re hoping to remain focused on developing the device and its software.”

One analyst said that carriers could seize upon the iPhone for two reasons: its ability to attract new customers to Internet services and the degree of network control the device affords.

“If they’re subsidized by the carriers, it’s going to be a good deal for the folks at home,” said Ray Tiernan, analyst and editor of the newsletter Computer Letter for New York-based Technologic Partners. “Also, it makes sense from a network usage standpoint in that it will help carriers increase their cut of the ISP market.

“If Sprint or any other carrier can use this technology to monitor how lines are being used and then manage them appropriately, the carriers could make improvements to the points in the network that need them,” he said. “That would repay the investment on the iPhones pretty rapidly.”

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