Interview with Sprint’s Kevin Kunkel: Sprint Wants to Own “Green” in Wireless

May 24, 2011

6:01 pm

Last year Sprint sponsored a number of our Tech Cocktail mixer events across the country, so we were thrilled to have them join us again for 2011 events in New York, LA, San Francisco, DC and Boston.  In an effort to get to know our partner a little better, we took some time to chat with Sprint Regional Vice President, Kevin Kunkel. While it wasn’t a surprise to learn about their 4G network or some of their latest features, I was surprised to hear about all of their green efforts. Little did I realize that over 90 percent of the devices Sprint collected in 2010 were reused and the company is taking measures on various fronts to move up the ranks as one of the top green companies in the US. Here’s the Q&A from my talk with Kevin – if you have questions, come meet members of the Sprint team at this week’s events in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Tech Cocktail: Sprint 4G has been available in LA since 2010. How was it received and have you seen an impact on what’s going on in the tech sector in LA?

Kevin Kunkel: Sprint has been in the LA market, including North Orange County, for 6 -7 months – since about the same time that 4G became a buzzword. We were the first in LA and did a huge launch at the Santa Monica hangar – we had a great turnout and huge anticipation for 4G. We had a great portfolio of cool devices that people were really ready for. And now we’re seeing great applications emerging. From a consumer perspective it was neat – people really gravitated toward hotspots. In LA, where people are constantly on-the-go and plugged in, businesses and individuals – from entrepreneurs and business leaders who frequently travel to busy moms – everyone is excited by the mobile hotspot feature. This capability, available on several of Sprint’s 4G-enabled devices (like the Overdrive Pro Mobile Hotspot and the new Nexus S smartphone) allows multiple Wi-Fi users to be connected online simultaneously, at 4G speeds.

People from across sectors like tech, entertainment and sports fell in love with the device – powering up phones and ipads, etc. This agnostic experience was innovative and drove a lot of attention. We also started seeing bloggers and newscasters doing live feeds back to their newsrooms via 4G devices, utilizing not just average spectrum. Sprint’s 4G spectrum is the equivalent of “beachfront property” in value and capabilities – it holds three times more data capacity than any other wireless carrier and allows our data to travel through the network faster. That means more lanes on our “data highway” than our competitors.

TC:  As compared to other “4G” networks, can you talk to us about how Sprint 4G has been adopted in the region?

KK: Momentum has been great – sales have really grown in LA throughout the last year which had a lot to do with the devices and desire to use the network. And it’s important to note that our 4G is “real 4G” according to industry criteria vs a marketing term that some competitors use.  Sprint 4G offers a true next generation network, one that goes way beyond speed. HSPA+, the network that other carriers use with the 4G label, is the end of the 3G technology roadmap, whereas Wimax and LTE are the beginning of the 4G roadmap. From a customer perspective, Sprint has created a major revolution in wireless – a generational leap from one level of technology to another. 4G may not be ubiquitous, but works well switching back and forth with 3G. We’re out front of the competition with a larger footprint and better spectrum.

In terms of how we’re seeing it adopted in the region, the killer app on 4G is video. The quality and latency reduction is incredible, so we’ve seen it adopted by interesting groups, such as law enforcement. It helps with the public safety sector by delivering a higher-quality video on surveillance cameras and delivering the footage in real-time. Police officers on motorcycles or horses can use their handheld devices to access video anywhere they go, staying in front of local crime. That video has been able to be used in actual convictions. And for on-the-scene situations, the power to be able to access info and records quickly is critical. 4G greatly enhances that capability.

TC: Can you describe any interesting ways you’ve witnessed LA area businesses using the 4G network and devices?

KK: We’ve seen news departments testing 4G devices which could save huge money as they replace satellites on trucks. In the auto industry, Sprint’s M2M (machine-to-machine) Connected Transportation initiative provides trucks, buses, subways, taxis, planes, police cars and ambulances a solution to be instantly linked through voice, data and images. For example, Sprint is working with partners to embed 4G chips into commercial public electric vehicle charging stations that will help station monitoring, process electronic payments, and deliver digital content for advertising and information.

We’re seeing great things in the health care market – like the ability to do distance or remote health care, monitoring vitals via devices and consulting with doctors remotely. LA-based healthcare management company SnF Management has set up Sprint 4G routers and data cards in more than 30 of their retirement homes throughout California to connect residents online. With other healthcare companies, 4G helps enable healthcare providers to connect people, devices, and systems through live streaming video, on-demand applications and virtual office visits. Applications of 4G in the healthcare sector include real-time virtual collaboration between colleagues across states; large radiology images to be accessed from anywhere to speed-up diagnostics and care plan execution; live surgery to be broadcast through a wireless video transmission in real time without having to wire an operating room; or an ambulance to broadcast live video of EMTs treating a patient while on the way to the hospital. The EMTs could upload patient stats and stream live video to the on-call doctor, shortening the time from patient arrival to surgery.

TC: Personally, what is your favorite 4G device that Sprint offers and why? Where would you like to see Sprint devices going in the future?

KK: The device that changed our world is the HTC EVO 4G –  it’s been on the market for months but I believe it’s the finest out there on the market. It has the best set of features, functionality and processing power. It’s become an Iconic device for Sprint as it introduced 2 way video, an extraordinary screen, great social media capabilities – it does it all. It’s been the ultimate device for us. Now we have over 20 4G devices, but EVO is still at the top.

Recently, Sprint announced two more 4G devices to add to the EVO family – HTC EVO 3D, a “glasses-free” 4G smartphone (you can take your own 3D photos, 3D movie clips, enjoy 3Dgames and 3Dmovies – the EVO is a hotspot too.) and HTC EVO View 4G tablet. Going forward, tablets and eco-friendly devices will have a major presence in the marketplace.

TC:  Tell us more about your green initiatives. We’ve read about the promise of 4G networks helping the country to go “green” – can you share your perspective on that?

KK: Sprint wants to own “green” in wireless – and we’ve earned it. Sprint was named the 6th most green company in the US by Newsweek. Our campus is very much wind-powered (reducing our carbon footprint), we recycle phones more than any other competitor, and now we’ve introduced the Samsung Replenish, an eco-friendly Android device with a full QWERTY keyboard – the majority of it is made from recycled materials, with an optional solar panel charging accessory for on-the-go charging. It’s $49 for the basic phone and Sprint is waiving the $10 monthly premium data add-on charge to make it easier for customers to make eco-friendly buying decisions.

Sprint is committed to helping customers protect the environment. In addition to advancing its sustainable product goals, which include launching iconic “green” devices, Sprint is working to manage the environmental impacts of devices using a full life-cycle view. We’ve walked and talked green for years. We are the leader and this device will demonstrate that. Since 2001, Sprint’s wireless reuse and recycling take-back programs (Sprint Buyback and Sprint Project Connect) have kept more than 24 million wireless devices out of landfills. Our goal is to recycle over 90% of the devices out there to put them into use or take care of the materials so they don’t end up in landfill. We will continue to beat the drum on how important Green is. It’s a core value we try to tell the public and media as a key tenant of the Sprint story.

Thank you, Kevin. We appreciate this opportunity to learn more about Sprint and it’s vision of a greener future.

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Jen Consalvo is the Cofounder and COO of Tech.Co. She previously worked in product development for almost 13 years at AOL for audiences of millions. Follow her on Twitter at: @noreaster.

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