NEW ORLEANS - CTIA is normally a show where you hear about the dazzling future that the wireless industry will bring about. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, however, thinks carriers might be getting a bit ahead of themselves.
SLIDESHOW: CTIA 2012 product primer
The issue, as Hesse outlined it in his keynote speech at CTIA this week, is that carriers have still not definitively solved the "dumb pipes" conundrum - that is, how do carriers prevent themselves from being relegated to pushing bits on their networks while over-the-top content providers rake in cash by offering value-added services?
To make things more complicated, Hesse said the wireless industry was currently suffering a "trust and reputation crisis" and noted that the latest research from the Reputation Institute showed that all three major U.S. wireless carriers ranked in the bottom third in customer reputation among all major U.S. companies. What's more, Hesse said that the companies at the top of the reputation chain were big tech players such as Google, Amazon and Apple, which carriers will have to compete with for value-added wireless services. In Hesse's view, reestablishing trust among customers should be the wireless industry's most important goal over the next few years.
"As we look forward as an industry, we need to see trust as our key," he said. "If they trust us they are going to buy from us, they're going to have a special relationship with us."
Unsurprisingly, Hesse's remarks on customer trust weren't entirely altruistic since they dovetailed nicely with the new Sprint Guardian security app suite that provides such core functions as malware protection, phishing protection, mobile app scanning and remote wipe capabilities, among other things. In the broader picture, Guardian is part of a charm offensive to help Sprint get its customers more comfortable with relying on it for key services that have traditionally been provided by third parties. Similarly, Sprint has also announced a new advertising policy designed to give users more control over whether they receive ads on their smartphones and tablets.
Hesse said that more carriers should embrace such services and initiatives to make their customers feel that their carrier has their back and will take guarding their personal data seriously. Data privacy has become a major issue over the last couple of years, as companies such as Google and Facebook have been engulfed in controversies surrounding how they use their customers' data.
"I focus intensely on our reputation because the future of our industry is personalization," he said. "The question is, whom will customers trust to provide these services? The real issue here is who is collecting their information and what are the values that are held by those companies."
Kevin McGinnis, Sprint's vice president of product platforms and services, also picked up on Hesse's themes during a private chat with Network World this week. He pointed out that Sprint's Guardian package not only included applications to manage users' smartphone data but also to manage their entire families' mobile security and safety. Among other things, the Guardian family safety bundle gives users the ability to whitelist and blacklist numbers across their family's devices, allows for tracking of family members by sending out certain checkpoints revealing their locations at certain times during the day, and that lets users see whom their children are contacting.
"We want to make sure that we're doing the right thing for customers in security, safety and privacy," he said. "It's no longer about carriers and over-the-top players, it's about how we manage these issues together. We want to make sure that we don't stifle things because customer trust starts to wane."
Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.