Setting A Fast Pace For The Wireless Web

In an ad last year, the "Sprint PCS Guy" meets a gray-haired engineer reminiscent of the character Q in James Bond flicks. The engineer reveals a slick new wireless phone that taps the Web. The Sprint Guy wonders if people are ready. "Some are," his cohort says. "Others will follow."

And they have. After one year, the U.S. carrier has 550,000 wireless Web users--five times as many as its next-largest rival, Verizon Communications. That's particularly impressive because Sprint has just 7.4 million mobile subscribers, compared with 25 million for Verizon. "They've jumped out to a big lead," says analyst Ira Brodsky of DataComm Research.

How? By continually pushing for the best technology. Sprint persuaded phone makers to supply it with 15 Web phones, twice as many as rivals. It was the first in the U.S. to offer mobile access to popular Web sites such as Yahoo!. And when one manufacturer offered a phone that took 36 touches to get a stock quote, Michael Coad, Sprint's subscriber-equipment expert, balked. "It was just deadly," says Coad. Ultimately, Sprint got phones that can tap the Web in five keystrokes. Now, that's worthy of James Bond.