Sprints Vision of the Future is Just That

eLABorations: High-speed wireless service is impressive, but budget-conscious IT staffs probably won't buy in for a while

There isnt a day that goes by when Im not cursing Cingular Wireless—my mobile phone provider—for the dropped calls, lack of service and undecipherable monthly bills. So lets just say it was with a degree of hope and a healthy dash of skepticism that I attended the rollout of Sprints nationwide 3G network yesterday.

Beginning this week, Sprint PCS will offer services that will give users Web connections at speeds similar to dialing up on modems over standard telephone lines. The service, called PCS Vision, is built on a CDMA 2000 1x network and will allow users to take and send pictures, download ring-tones and screen savers, and send short text messages. New handsets, available from Samsung, Sanyo, LG or Handspring, are required.

Customers accessing the network using a wireless access computer card will be able to surf the Web and check e-mail on laptops or compatible PDAs. Enterprise users will also be able to access applications including Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes.

Mobile phone users who have seen the high-speed wireless services already available in Asia and in Europe probably wont be impressed. Been there, done that. But I cant claim to be on the cutting edge of mobile phone ownership, so the ability to download video games and Mickey Mouse screen savers had some novelty.

But while Im happy to see U.S. mobile phone companies finally rolling out high-speed wireless services, I remain skeptical that budget-conscious enterprise IT buyers, even those catering to top executives who insist on having the latest and greatest, will take the bait.

How much are you really willing to pay to surf the Internet and to send digital photos from your mobile phone? Sprints pricing for voice and data packages starts at $49.99, including 4,000 voice minutes and 2MB of data. The high-end plans go up to $119.99 a month including 10,000 voice minutes and 8MB of data. Sprint PCS also has an introductory $99.99-per-month plan of unlimited data for laptop and PDA cards.

These days, its hard to get a cab to the airport expensed. How many line managers are going to see digital photos as mission-critical? I suppose you could always wow the CFO with the enhanced services. While playing with two different PCS Vision-enabled mobile phones yesterday, I was able to play Tetris on a full-color screen and watch Sprint executives send digital photos of one another between phones using SMS technology.

Still, tepid 50K-bps to 70K-bps speeds are good enough to check flight times or movie schedules. But I just cant see myself choosing to read about the PGA Championship via ESPN.com using my mobile phone rather than on my desktop.

It is important to remember that this is just the beginning, and Im sure the day will come when Ill wonder how it is I ever lived without high-speed wireless access. However, although PCS Vision is a step in the right direction, I just dont think that day is now.

Will you take the plunge with high-speed wireless access? Write to me at anne_chen@ziffdavis.com.