Sprint's Goal: Wireless Caddy

Helping big businesses handle wireless service could boost customer loyalty, it hopes.
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Sprint

(FON)

wants to help companies cut wireless spending.

Well, that's at least part of the overall consulting plan the Overland Park, Kan., telco is unveiling Monday. Sprint's mobile business assessment service aims to help companies understand their current wireless practices, and point out where they can be improved and presumably where money is being wasted.

If true to its mission, Sprint's assessment program will examine and recommend -- without loyalty to its own products -- the best options in wireless voice and data service, and the most suitable devices.

Wireless is perhaps the last of the untamed business communications services. Unlike the office desk phone with one calling plan for the entire company, wireless decisions typically fall to employees who pick their cell phones and Blackberry service plans, and then submit the bills with their monthly expense reports.

As wireless becomes a bigger part of business spending, several players have eyed the opportunity to add mobile to the list of services they can manage for companies.

Outsourcing consultancies such as

Accenture

(ACN) - Get Report

and

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

would love to include wireless in their service integration duties. And technology research shops such as

Forrester

(FORR) - Get Report

and

Gartner

(IT) - Get Report

are natural choices to play advisory roles to business clients.

Historically, phone companies haven't exactly taken a keen view on working with customers on the assessment approach, since often the recommendations include consolidating services and finding lower-priced contracts.

After jettisoning its wireless business and before getting wrapped up in a merger with

SBC

(SBC)

, for instance,

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

had

big designs for selling corporations wireless service management. AT&T intended to buy wholesale network time from several phone companies and repackage it under one bill to businesses. AT&T saw the pitch as a way to solidify its role as the key communications manager for corporations.

Sprint's pending merger with

Nextel

(NXTL)

gives the combined company a broad selection of wireless services to offer business customers, including high-speed Net access with Sprint's new evolution data-only, or EVDO, technology, and instant two-way radio connections through Nextel's walkie-talkie service.

Sprint representatives say the company plans to be "service agnostic," meaning it is willing to recommend other service providers where need be.

The assessment service takes about five weeks and costs around $60,000. Sprint says it has nine customers to date, and that it expects to have 75 by year-end. It wants to close 2006 with at least 200 customers.

Observers say Sprint's efforts to help customers get mobile services under control could cut into Sprint's revenue. Experts say audits of employee cell-phone bills and calling habits will probably show a mix of personal and work-related use and extra charges when monthly minute allocations are exceeded. The net effect could cause companies to clamp down on employees' calling liberties and help lower phone service costs.

Sprint says that is a small drawback in a bigger overall picture of working with customers and their wireless planning.

Forrester telecom analyst Lisa Pierce says Sprint sees an opportunity to shift wireless calling decisions from individual employees to companies. "While this might cost them some customers initially, it would really help reduce churn over the long term. Most corporate calling plans are two-years," says Pierce.