And nowhere will activity be more heated than in Los Angeles, where underdog Sprint PCS already has unleashed an almost non-stop blitz of promotional activity, especially sampling.
But Sprint Corp. is hardly alone. In key markets, other players including AT&T Corp., Nextel Communications and local wireless marketers will spend $10 million to $20 million each this summer to woo new customers with events, promotions and sampling offers.
Los Angeles is one of the nation's most competitive wireless zones, and this summer it will be a market where Sprint PCS is a leader of the promotional ground war.
Since entering the L.A. market in late 1997, Sprint PCS has heightened pressure on marketplace leaders AT&T, Nextel, AirTouch Communications and Pacific Bell with a steady stream of promotions targeting young adults.
BATTLE FOR FIRST-TIMERS
"The whole battle is for first-time wireless users, since that's where the biggest growth is coming from," said Joe Edward, director of marketing for Sprint PCS in Los Angeles.
"Originally, wireless phones were expensive and primarily used by business people, but as the price has come down, it's emerging as the ideal communications tool for young people who are always on the move, and college kids, who need to have some kind of long-distance carrier to call home," he said.
The key elements in selecting a carrier are price, area coverage and clarity, and Sprint believes sampling is the most powerful way to demonstrate its product.
To do so, Sprint lined up members of a local high school track team to run alongside Los Angeles Marathon competitors, letting them use a Sprint PCS phone to call friends and family for free at mile 19 of the 26-mile effort.
More than 1,500 out of 20,000 runners participated in Sprint's "Make A Call on Us" promotion during the race.
Sprint also is blanketing college campuses with sampling efforts, and sponsoring events such as the University of California-Irvine's annual "Songfest" this spring, as well as backing headline performances at L.A.'s Universal Amphitheater.
When young adults began lining up at Mann's Chinese Theater in L.A. for the May 19 opening of the new "Star Wars" film, Sprint even supplied people waiting in line with free phones.
MALIBU BEACH HOUSE
For summer, Sprint has acquired a beach house in Malibu, where it will stage live promotional events to give away prizes and wireless services to young adults.
Nine L.A. radio stations have linked with Sprint for promotions in which listeners who call the radio dial number of specific stations on a Sprint PCS phone get priority treatment over other callers in contests to win cash and prizes.
Sprint's promotions are backed by local print, radio and TV ads from Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco.
"Wherever young adults are," Mr. Edward said, "we literally drive out and find