Sprint Corp. on June 22 becomes the first major telecommunications provider to introduce an Internet Call Waiting service. Sprint will target the millions of single-line households that miss calls while surfing the Net.
The Internet Call Waiting service will be bundled with the Sprint 1000 long-distance calling plan. Internet Call Waiting will be offered free for six months to consumers who sign up for Sprint 1000. After the six-month period, Sprint will charge $4.95 per month. International Data Corp. projects that by 2003, more than 26 million households will use such a service.
Sprint will support the new plan with up to $15 million in on- and offline advertising over a three-month period via agency of record McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York. Thirty-second TV spots for Sprint's current consumer long-distance campaign, starring actress Sela Ward of ABC's "Once & Again," will be tagged with the new offer. The offer also will be integrated into :60s, and two dedicated :15s will flag the offer. The advertising will tell consumers they will never have to miss another call while surfing the Internet. In addition, Sprint will promote the offer on sprint.com, via e-mail messages to nearly 1 million select prospects and banner ads on key portals.
"We don't believe we have any national competition," said Dan Alcazar, assistant VP-marketing and sales at Sprint's National Consumer Organization. "What we do face is RBOCs [regional Bell operating companies], which do in fact have this product."
Mr. Alcazar noted that Ameritech, BellSouth Corp. and several niche online providers offer similar services, but, he said, "the others are online providers that don't have our volume; we're going to drive the whole Internet call waiting category."
Sprint currently holds 10% of the overall consumer long-distance market. Sprint's partner in the effort is Nortel Networks, which developed the software and interface for the product and is helping fund the marketing campaign. Marketing and collateral related to the effort will bear the logo "Powered By Nortel."
The service allows consumers to decide whether they want to take a call while they're cruising the Internet, or whether they want the call to be saved into voicemail. For example, when a call comes in, a pop-up screen on the computer will note who the caller is, the time and date. The consumer can decide to take the call or have it transferred into an e-mail file and listen to it later. Incoming calls also can be screened while the call goes into voicemail. Calls can even be forwarded to the consumer's Sprint PCS wireless phone. The caller gets a recording that indicates his call is being transferred. Customers can register for the service online at sprint.com or through an 800-number. Once they register, they will be sent a link to a special URL and will receive further instructions.
Sprint said 45 million to 50 million households are now online and the average user is online for an hour. Sprint's move into the Internet call management space will help it grow its voice revenue stream. "The move toward the data space is right, and it's even more right to bundle that with our voice services . . . bundling is crucial," Mr. Alcazar said. "We believe that there is enough consumer demand out there today to justify this."
Meredith Rosenberg, director of consumer market convergence at Yankee Group, said the Sprint move is a smart one: "No other long-distance carrier is doing this as of yet, though there are a lot of smaller companies." Ms. Rosenberg added, "This is a great product, and a way to combine your telephony assets with your Internet assets and focus on that same customer base, so you encourage that customer segment to stay online longer."
Copyright June 2000, Crain Communications Inc.