Al Moschner probably wouldn't blame you if you've never heard of Cricket Wireless. But if he has his way, you'll know about his company soon enough.
As the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the nation's seventh-largest wireless carrier, Moschner directs marketing and branding efforts for Cricket's products and services. A subsidiary of Leap Wireless International founded in 1999, Cricket serves 5.3 million prepaid customers in select communities in 25 states, or about a third of the country. Though that focus has served Cricket well over the past year--total revenues for parent company Leap Wireless increased 10.2 percent from the second quarter of 2009 to the same period this year--the carrier isn't standing still. Even as it stays true to its prepaid roots, it is embarking on plans to attract new customers, expand into smartphone content services, and develop the network necessary to become a national carrier.
Last Tuesday, just before Cricket released its first smartphone, the Sanyo Zio, Moschner dropped by CNET's San Francisco offices to talk about how his company and the wireless industry is changing. We covered a range of topics, including the growth in prepaid, an impending music service, cheaper data plans, and, of course, a CDMA iPhone.
Q: You operate your own network, yet you also act as an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) for Sprint. Why be an MVNO, too? Why not just funnel people onto your own network? A: It's about national reach. An important part of our strategy is to become national. We're not going to stop building out our own infrastructure, but given that real growth in the industry is with prepaid users, we need to be a national carrier today. And more importantly, if you believe that a significant shift of sales is moving to a national carrier footprint, the only way for us to be relevant is to be national.
Q: What's driving the growth in prepaid? Is it just the economy? A: The economy is a very significant piece of it. It's forcing people to question if they can afford a $100-per-month wireless bill. The second is that folks are looking for value. We provide value in our space. We can offer voice and data much cheaper than other carriers. The third point is that consumers are no longer viewing prepaid as something that only someone else buys. There used to be that overhang in [prepaid] for good reason. If you go look at what prepaid was 15 years ago, it was more expensive than postpaid, it offered crummy devices, and it was difficult to get. Now, all of that has changed and prepaid has gone mainstream. We're offering just about everything that the major carriers offer, but at prices that are very compelling.
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