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This is a braver step than the company's existing Sprint Mobile Business Assessment, which was itself a ground breaker among cellcos, unveiled in July as the first consulting business dedicated to wireless technology, and now absorbed into Enterprise Mobility.

The move was seen as Sprint's entry into the high margin consulting arena, seeking to play up its in-depth knowledge of wireless systems in order to lure customers from IT consultancies such as IBM, as enterprises become increasingly interested in how to mobilize their workforces and key applications.

The key change is Sprint will now follow through with its advice and help companies set up the systems, managing them and sharing in the risks. "Most businesses recognise the potential that mobility solutions offer, but tell us they don't have the expertise or resources to tackle major deployments across multiple companies and operating systems," Sprint Nextel’s chief operating officer Len Lauer said in a statement at launch.

According to figures from Bain & Co, the managed services market for operators will be worth $40bn-$50bn in the US alone by 2008, but pure consultancy is worth only 10 per cent of that total, making expansion into implementation and management essential.

On the consulting side, Sprint is aiming to strike the difficult balance that IBM had to work towards for many years, focusing on multi-technology integration and asserting its own objectivity while using its consulting contracts to generate interest in its core services. From now, the consultants will focus on integration ofdifferent systems, new and legacy, rather than pure technology choice, and will aim to tailor a unique network for each customer. In particular, it will build up expertise in integrating wireless networks and access with key application suites such as supply chain management.

It will be important to try to work with the major integrators and software houses rather than against them, since IBM, SAP, HP and so on have well established presence in the richest business accounts, and will find it a less dramatic leap to extend their applications knowledge to mobile access platforms, than for Sprint to shift from understanding mobile data networks to becoming a fully fledged enterprise consultancy.

So far, only the cellular operators with wireline parents with existing integration businesses – such as Orange – have really delivered on any of their promises to the large corporate base.

Pragmatic solutions

Pragmatic solutions like redundant wireless back-up for wireline data networks will be important to get a foot in the door, and the best introduction to the large enterprise will be any service, however basic, that promises to bring the telecoms bill under control.

So we have seen the big cellcos, behind all their high sounding talk of server-to-handset mobile enterprise integration, introducing more mundane offerings that could well catch the corporate attention. Cingular recently unveiled OfficeReach, an integrated communications management solution that allows businesses to administer their wireline and wireless services as one system to help control telecom costs.

Tools include one-number service, customisable call management, private numbering plan and zone billing and OfficeReach is integrated directly into a company's existing telephone network, requiring no investment in PBX infrastructure. Also focusing on spending control, Sprint has rolled out a voice feature, Mobile to Office, that allows business customers to designate a wireline number for unlimited calling for $8 a month.

Such options may not generate the big revenues that the operators hope from managed services and integration, but they are essential to attract the attention of large potential customers, and to start the cellcos on the difficult climb up the corporate food chain from bit pipe providers to strategic partners.

Their track record has been poor so far, but now there are some more hopeful signs that the three US majors, Vodafone and Orange may change the picture and provide a genuine new option for large companies. Forget mobile television, in the short term, this is where Sprint will have its work cut out to stay ahead of an expanded AT&T.

Copyright © 2006, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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