Sprints ION in Va. Sees Consumer DSL Launch

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Sprint Corp. made its
long-awaited move into the local broadband marketplace last
week, launching a DSL service in Charlottesville, Va.,
closely patterned to the emerging consumer-oriented G.Lite
platform.

Confirming that its ION
(Interactive On-Demand Network) initiative is not limited to
the business market, the carrier took several steps to
ensure that its first foray into digital-subscriber-line
offerings was competitive with cable's consumer offerings,
said Greg Crosby, assistant vice president for
high-speed-data products at Sprint's
local-telecommunications division.

"We're doing this
somewhat differently from the way most of the Bell operating
companies have gone about launching DSL," Crosby said.
"Our product is much more than fast access."

Sprint is taking advantage of
its high-speed IP (Internet protocol) backbone and its
strategic positioning of local caching servers to facilitate
delivery of content and applications at high speeds on an
end-to-end basis, he noted.

Bell companies, barred from
the long-distance business, must rely on third parties for
this kind of support, which most have been hesitant to do
for cost concerns.Sprint is also developing a
broadband-content portal with Internet-service-provider
partner EarthLink Network Inc. "We're installing
software at the PC [personal computer] that includes a
customized browser and a broadband-portal window with video
that links to enhanced content," Crosby said.

Content partners, to be
announced over the next 30 to 60 days, include
interactive-games and packaged-software suppliers, as well
as sites running enhanced video clips. Eventually, the
company plans to offer longer-form videos and other elements
in a pay-per-view mode, Crosby said.

Nearly one year has passed
since Sprint first announced its ION initiative, which it
said would deliver an integrated package of voice, data and
multimedia services to consumer and business markets
nationwide in a direct challenge to AT&T Corp.'s cable
agenda.

While Sprint has moved into
commercial delivery of high-end integrated services to
several large corporations, it has held back from consumer
and small-business high-speed-access markets, despite
wide-scale DSL launches by other telcos and competitive
local-exchange carriers.

But now, the rollout pace
will be rapid in markets where Sprint owns the local network
(representing about 7.5 million lines in 18 states) and in
markets where it will install DSL facilities at other
carriers' central offices, Crosby said.

Plans call for additional
launches this year in Las Vegas and communities in the
Orlando, Fla., and Kansas City, Mo., metropolitan areas over
Sprint-owned networks, and in Denver, Kansas City and
Seattle over other networks.

By the end of 2000, Sprint
intends to have DSL services up and running in 20 more
cities where it is the local carrier and in 35 of the top
metropolitan service areas served by other local carriers,
Crosby said.

The baseline ADSL
(asymmetrical DSL) Charlottesville service delivers data at
512 kilobits per second downstream and 128 kbps in the
return path, at $42.99 per month for transport.

Pasadena, Calif.-based
EarthLink, of which Sprint owns 30 percent, provides
Internet-access services for an additional $10 per month,
raising the price to $52.99. That includes a "broadband
portal" meant to support access to enhanced content,
Crosby said.

Sprint also offers a
1.5-megabit-per-second/384-kbps ADSL service for $75.99 per
month, including EarthLink's component. And it offers a
640-kbps symmetrical service for businesses at $129.99 with
Internet access or $99.99 for remote local-area-network
extensions without Internet access.

The ADSL components closely
match the capabilities of the G.Lite standard, which was
designed to expand ADSL coverage and to accommodate
"splitterless" connections over existing in-home
wiring.

Alcatel Alsthom, the supplier
for the Charlottesville and other early Sprint LTD rollouts,
is already delivering splitterless systems, although they
aren't completely compliant with G.Lite as yet, Crosby
noted.

"We're definitely going
to move to G.Lite when it's available," he added.
Sprint's primary supplier for the ION networks, including
the DSL component, will be Cisco Systems Inc. once that
company has G.Lite gear available. Alcatel could be a
secondary supplier over the long term, Crosby added.

Sprint will take feedback
from customers this year to determine usage patterns and
speed requirements going forward. But it expects the
G.Lite-based service to look a lot like the Charlottesville
offering.

If it turns out that
full-screen, 30-frame-per-second video requiring a 1-mbps
(or faster) connection is hugely popular, the company might
place greater emphasis on higher speed, Crosby said.

Separately, EarthLink is
pushing broadband-content development through as MSO Charter
Communications' ISP, EarthLink spokesman Kurt Rahn said.

"We look on DSL and
cable data as complementary factors in our broadband
agenda," he added.EarthLink began working with Charter
before Sprint invested in the ISP last year, but it didn't
sign on as Charter's systemwide ISP until after the Sprint
deal closed last fall.

EarthLink has yet to decide
what will happen when Sprint and Charter offer high-speed
services in the same market, Rahn said.

EarthLink is among the top
five consumer ISPs, with well over 1 million subscribers --
well behind category leader America Online Inc., which has
about 16 million subscribers.

Sprint wants DSL to be
available to as many people as possible in the markets it
serves, rather than limiting deployment to certain pockets,
Crosby noted.

The company also plans to put
newly acquired wireless cable markets to use in support of
ION, which will eventually include IP voice in the data
stream.

"DSL is the core ION

technology, but we'll use other means, as well," Crosby
said.

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