Sprint Product Managers Try To Take On AT&T And Verizon

To win more customers, Sprint needs a better network
To win more customers, Sprint needs a better network

Image Credit: Mike Mozart

Being a product manager who works in the highly competitive wireless market has got to be a struggle every day. There are not a lot of players in this market, in the U.S. there really is just AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. However, each of these companies is always looking for ways to steal market share from the other firms. Over at Sprint, their product managers think that they may have come with a plan to do just that.

Sprint’s Plan To Win More Customers

The battles between the large wireless carriers in the U.S. are nothing new. They have been going on for a long time. As each of these companies has come to realize that the future of the company depends on their success in the wireless space, they have intensified their push to get more customers. Since pretty much everyone who is going to purchase a mobile phone in the U.S. has already done so, there is not a large pool of untapped subscribers to win over like there was in the past. Instead, each of these large companies now has to come up with ways to change their product development definition so that they can steal subscribers from other vendors.

Over at Sprint the product managers have been thinking very hard about how they can go about poaching customers from both AT&T and Verizon. All of the easy paths covered in a product manager job description have already been explored. Prices have been slashed. Phones have been given away. The cost of switching carriers is now covered by the carrier that you switch to. Even the amount of data that you get with a given plan is pretty much the same between carriers. What’s left to put on your product manager resume? The Sprint product managers have decided that what their customers most desire is to have their network always be available to them (no dead zones) and to always be fast. Now the question is how best to go about making this happen.

What the Sprint product managers have decided to do is to embark on a massive building campaign. The plan is to install low-power cellular antennas in public rights-of-way areas. This means that Sprint wants to build on land that is currently holding utility poles, street lamps, and fire hydrants. If Sprint finds an area that they want to add an antenna to an existing pole but there is no existing pole, then they are going to ask permission to erect a new pole. Sprint hopes to be able to do this 70,000 times over the next few years.

Challenges That Sprint Faces Trying To Implement Its Plan

If all that Sprint had to do was to throw up a bunch of new poles, then it would simply be a matter time and some project management skills and they could have this all wrapped up. However, this is the real world and that means that things are always just a bit more complicated. One of the issues that they are running into is that the communities where they want to install their new antennas are deciding that they look unsightly. The local authorities are also trying to make up their minds about the new regulatory questions that these antennas could cause.

When the mobile networks were originally built in the U.S., the carriers would build towers that were over 200 feet tall and install their antennas on them. The reason that they would do this was because it permitted them to send their mobile phone signals over very large areas. This meant that a single tower could cover as many customers as possible. What has happened since then is that there are now a lot more people using smartphones. They use their phones to stream videos and to access the internet. This means that they always want to have connectivity. What Sprint wants to do now is to put lower powered antennas closer to the ground so that fewer people will be able to connect to each antenna. The hope is that this will result in less network congestion.

One of the key reasons that the Sprint product managers are perusing this product strategy is because the costs of operating these smaller cells is less than for a traditional mobile tower. A traditional tower will cost a service provider roughly US$732,000 per year. This cost comes from real estate rents, power, and other costs. Sprint’s smaller cell towers should end up costing them $190,000 over ten years. In order to accomplish what they want to do, Sprint’s product managers are going to have to negotiate with a lot of cities in order to reach deals that may cover a number of different permits.

What All Of This Means For You

In the highly competitive U.S. wireless market, each of the major players has had to change its strategy. Note that just about everyone already has a mobile phone, the major companies now have to focus on stealing customers from their competition. Everyone has a different strategy to accomplish this. Sprint wants to do it by putting a lot more poles.

The Sprint strategy involves a massive building campaign in which they hope to install 70,000 new poles that they can then put low-power antennas on. They may run into issues with local communities who don’t like the way that the new antennas look and will reject Sprint’s request for a building permit. Sprint’s new towers will be lower to the ground to restrict who can connect to it. If the Sprint product managers can work with each city, they may be able to get the permits that they need.

The Sprint product managers have their hands tied. Most the traditional things that they would normally do have already been done. They have a novel plan to build out their network by adding a lot of low-power antennas. However, in order to accomplish this plan they are going to have to make the effort to get permission from a lot of different cities in order to put in the new poles that they will need. If they take their time and show the cities respect, they may just be able to pull this audacious plan off.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: If you were a Sprint product manager, would you go after big cities or little cities first?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As product managers we know that selling our product to a new customers is a fantastic accomplishment. When this happens, we feel great. However, it turns out that this is really just the start of a much longer journey. Once we have a customer onboard, it now becomes the job of the product manager to do everything that you can to make sure that your product development definition will allow you to keep that customer. There are a lot of different things that you can do to make this happen, but the most important one is to talk with your customer. This leads to the big question: what’s the best way to hold this kind of conversation?