Sprint unveils wireless handset

LAS VEGAS -- Sprint Nextel Corp. sought to reverse its recent troubles yesterday, unveiling with fanfare an iPhone-like handset and reaffirming its support for a next-generation wireless Internet technology.

Chief executive Dan Hesse, speaking to the wireless industry at its annual convention, said No. 3 Sprint is positioning itself to become "the wireless company of the future."


Hesse said nothing in his keynote speech about recent reports that Sprint has been trying to get top cable companies to help the carrier deploy a WiMax network. That wireless technology offers speeds akin to cable modems or digital subscriber lines with range much greater than Wi-Fi.

However, Hesse emphasized his support for the service, called Xohm. He said it will give Sprint a two-year market advantage over its rivals in deploying a next-generation high-speed network.


It was the new Sprint Instinct handset by Samsung that made a big splash at the show yesterday.

"This is an answer to the iPhone," said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst in Atlanta. "We started to see answers to the iPhone come out last year. Those devices were good, but we knew they were just the first wave. This is the next wave."

Kagan said that for Sprint to turn itself around, it will have to find a way to excite wireless customers as it did years ago when camera phones first appeared.

Sprint executives say the Instinct, which goes on sale in June, will be "significantly less expensive" than the iPhone, which starts at $399, said Avi Greengart, research director of mobile devices for Current Analysis.

The Instinct features a 3.1-inch touch screen with three dedicated buttons on the bottom: phone, back and home. It uses vibrating "tactile feedback" to make it easier to navigate with fingers.

The handset lacks the iPhone's multitouch abilities, which allow people to use multiple fingers to do things such as zooming in and out of photos.

However, the Instinct does have features not found on the iPhone.

It uses Sprint's fastest available wireless network, providing faster online access than the iPhone. A faster iPhone is reportedly in the works, but for now it runs on an older and slower AT&T; network.


The Instinct also uses Global Positioning System technology for location-based services. The iPhone pulls off similar tricks by using wireless networks to determine an approximate location.

Sprint said in January that it would cut about 4,000 jobs and close 125 stores to save up to $800 million a year in labor costs this year. The carrier has struggled with a lower stock price and fewer new customers, compared to its rivals, in the past year.