Sprint's Adib talks about Softbank's pending support, Tizen's appeal and Sprint Zone's success
On the Hot Seat with Fared Adib, senior vice president of product development & operations at Sprint Nextel
On the eve of Sprint's (NYSE:S) Open Solutions Conference in San Jose, Calif., Fared Adib talked with FierceMobileContent's Editor-in-Chief Sue Marek about how the conference has evolved and is no longer solely for developers. Adib also opened up about Softbank's anticipated $20.1 billion investment in Sprint, the operator's mobile advertising strategy and why the company decided to support fledgling Tizen, the open source operating system based on Linux.
FierceMobileContent: What do you expect to be some of the highlights of your developer conference?
Fared Adib: First, I'm going to correct you. We actually have stopped referring to our conference as a developers' conference. We now call it the Open Solutions Conference, and the reason this matters is that we have seen over time that the nature of who attends our events has changed. It's not just developers. It's a conference where we tend to invite partners from our ecosystem. And by ecosystem, I mean everything from people that we buy services and products from like HTC or Samsung or Ericsson and Synniverse. They are part of our consortium, but we also have people like individual developers and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley. And we also have opened up and welcomed people from different industries that are not necessarily part of the wireless industry, such as banking and advertising.
The reason we have taken this route is that developers have a lot of avenues in the open development world. They can go to Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) I/O developer conference or they can go to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) developer conference.
FierceMobileContent: You recently announced PinsightMedia+, a mobile advertising platform with Amobee. Can you talk about that?
Adid: Pinsight Media+ is the brand refers to our mobile advertising and analytics business. It's not just about Amobee. Amobee is one of our partners that we have chosen to help us deliver our value proposition around Pinsight Media+. But there are many other partners we are also working with to enable it.
It's very similar to what other carriers in digital services have done. We formally refer to it as Pinsight Media+ and the + is about exposing new forms of monetization to developers and to advertisers and figuring out how they can use mobile in their business.
For us, the audience we are speaking to is not our normal ecosystem. These are people at Walgreens, Coca-Cola [and] McDonald's. They don't necessarily know anything about mobile technology. We don't want to talk about technology. We just want to talk about the value that we can deliver to them with their mobile advertising strategy.
There is not an advertiser today that isn't looking at mobile as part of their strategy. Everybody is looking at it in different sizes and the amount of expenditures they are putting toward it. But if you are not using mobile in your advertising strategies moving forward, you are probably not reaching the number of customers that you can with the effectiveness of the mobile platform.
FierceMobileContent: How do you address privacy concerns with mobile advertising? That is something we constantly hear about from the consumer.
Adib: I will give you a little history about our mobile advertising strategy. We have been doing it for a while but in a more traditional form that has been accepted by privacy standards we established with our customers for years.
When we looked at this Amobee platform and what it delivered in the Pinsight Media family of products, we started with the privacy issue first. We want to look out for the best interest for the consumer. We didn't want to break that trust with the customer by doing the wrong thing with privacy.
We looked at how we could develop a mobile advertising policy that satisfies the needs of the customer, and we came up with several different tenets. We give the customer the chance to opt-in rather than default to the option of opting out. It's a true opt-in policy.
We also wanted to make sure there was transparency. We want the customer to fully understand what they are opting in for. We made sure we had a gold standard in privacy. I think we have delivered on that. And advertisers can feel comfortable in deploying with us that we will meet their needs and the needs of the customer.
FierceMobileContent: Sprint has been in the news a lot lately with Softbank's planned $20.1 billion investment in Sprint. Are you going to address that at your conference? Will this be a distraction to the conference?
Adib: It will be a pink elephant in the room if we don't address it, but it's very simple. It's still very early, but this is a great event for Sprint. Softbank has an investment in Sprint, and we are excited about it. What is relevant to this community is that Softbank is a very innovative company and has been doing great things in Japan. We like what they have done with devices and mobile commerce. They are a leader in that area. They are also an Internet company and have made investments in a lot of different technology companies with their investment group. We can learn from that.
But we have to wait for regulatory approval first. We will highlight that and what it means to our community at the conference.
FierceMobileContent: We talked last February about the importance of discovery for mobile apps. Has anything changed since we talked? Have you seen improvements?
Adib: The last time we talked we were in the infancy of "Place your ad"--a tool we launched at our last conference. We have some good news on that. We have had 12 million click-throughs on our recommendation engine in Sprint Zone. It's a big number. We have heard from the companies that have taken part in this "Place your ad" program and some have seen a 400 percent increase in downloads in their application from just being in that engine.
The whole purpose of "Place your ad" was to help developers of all sizes find a democratic way to get closer to the customer and get outside of the noise of the app stores. I think the other thing we want to do is help these developers with monetization. By having more click-throughs and more downloads it correlates to better monetization for them. The cost per click is as low as a penny for some of these developers, so it's cheaper than almost any other form of advertising.
We weren't in the "Place your own ad" business to generate a lot of revenue for Sprint. It was more of an effort to get companies to do more business with Sprint. We wanted innovative companies to join us. And we wanted to help drive more monetization for them, which in turn helps us have a better relationship with our customers.
FierceMobileContent: I noticed that you have some panel discussions on Tizen, the open source operating system based upon Linux, at your conference. We haven't heard much about that. What are your thoughts?
Adib: Earlier this year announced our support for Tizen and Mozilla's Firefox Mobile OS. The reason we are excited about supporting those platforms is that we think that these platforms are driving an agenda around HTML5. We wanted to have involvement in it. We want to be completely aware of what HTML5 means for mobile devices.
We are waiting to see how mature these platforms are going to be before we agree to deliver products with manufacturing partners on those platforms.
We aren't ready to announce anything yet. It's all based on the timing and feeling comfortable that the platforms will have a good customer experience for us to deliver to our customer base.