Wireless Providers Compete for B-to-B Contracts

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(To see a list of the largest telecom companies in Arkansas, click here.)

(For a list of the largest ISPs, click here.)

Imagine doing business without your cell phone.

It’s probably hard to fathom, because what was a novelty just 15 years ago has become a standard business device. It’s so standard, some executives are only reachable via their mobile phone.

In Northwest Arkansas, three companies – AT&T Inc., Alltel Corp. and Sprint Nextel Corp. – dominate the fight for millions of dollars in wireless communication business contracts.

But meeting the needs of businesses is no easy task. Today’s businesses want it all from a wireless carrier: top-of-the-line products, customer service and a quick, dependable network that allows them to conduct business no matter the location.

All three wireless providers in Northwest Arkansas said they are working harder than ever to provide state-of-the-art products and services to set them apart from the competition and draw business customers to their network.

According to CTIA, an international wireless telecommunication industry association, there are more than 251 million wireless subscribers in the United States.

In Arkansas alone, the number of cell phone users grew by 153 percent in just six years, from 751,000 in June of 2000 to more than 1.9 million in June of 2006.

All three wireless providers said they do not keep local data.

In 1995, the industry had gross revenue of $18.6 billion. By June 2007, that number increased to more than $124.7 billion, up about 624 percent.

Mike Bennett, executive of state and local government affairs for San Antonio, Tex.- based AT&T, which has six company-owned stores in Northwest Arkansas and 67 million customers nationwide, said the company has invested $163 million over the last three years in its Arkansas wireless network.

John Kampfe, corporate spokesman for AT&T, said the company continues to focus on large, corporate accounts but has begun offering new services and options for small businesses.

“AT&T has a nationwide, small business organization in place that deals with the needs of small businesses,” Kampfe said. “We also have a small business sales team that will call on small business and provide the same services that large corporations are looking for. We take small business very seriously.”

Melissa Cozzens, Arkansas general business sales manager for Kansas City, Kans.-based Sprint, said Sprint, which has two company-owned stores in Northwest Arkansas, has continued to provide wireless solutions for large corporations but has recently beefed-up its small business solutions and data options.

Bill Henke, director of business solutions for Little Rock-based Alltel, said his company, which has more than 12 million customers in the U.S. and 675,000 customers in Arkansas (about 35 percent of the state’s market), believes customer service is the key to customer retention.

“We try to provide superior customer service,” Henke said. “That has a different connotation for everybody, but the thing we do is try to win customers through our customer service. We do that through key account representatives that are on-site in Rogers and Fort Smith.”

 

Data Demand

Ten years ago, cell phones’ services were limited to making and receiving calls. Today, cell phones can provide driving directions, upload work e-mail and locate a piece of business-owned machinery.

Wireless companies are increasingly feeling the pressure to provide not only voice services but also the hottest wireless data products and applications.

“There will always be a need for voice communication but right now the real growth opportunity is with data,” Henke said. “That’s where we see the market going and along with data is speed. Mobility is a big deal for many businessmen and everyone wants the fastest network possible.”

AT&T, Alltel and Sprint have all begun rolling out new data products and services to meet businesses demands for instant information and communication.

Kampfe said AT&T now provides TeleNav Track. The application uses a wireless GPS system to track mobile equipment, employees and building inventory levels for business owners.

On December 14, Alltel introduced its latest data service, Voice2Txt.

The data application converts voice messages into text messages so professionals can review their voice mails in text form without having to listen to the entire message.

Wireless companies have also begun to partner with third parties to bring new and innovative products to wireless business customers.

The banking industry has been quick to take advantage of today’s wireless data capabilities.

During the first quarter of 2008, Arvest Bank Group Inc. will begin offering mobile banking to its customers.

The new application will allow Arvest customers to check their balance, pay bills and monitor their accounts using a downloadable application.

Jason Kincy, vice president/marketing manager of alternative delivery for Arvest, said the bank’s new mobile banking application will differ from accessing a bank’s Web site using a phone’s Internet capabilities.

Data accessed through the mobile banking application will be encrypted and will not include a customer’s personal information.

And mobile banking is just the first of many anticipated wireless applications.

All three company representatives said they evaluate third-party proposals on a daily basis and expect to see a variety of wireless applications and services in the near future.

“What we are trying to do with the business community is bring them more value,” Henke said.