Jun. 11, 2010 5:41 pm

Friday Q&A: Verizon Wireless Regional President Mario Turco talks Philly, 4G

We’ve long tracked down the region’s mobile leaders to get them into conversation about Philadelphia’s market. Tapping regional executive leaders has certainly shed light on how the mobile market in Philadelphia—crowded by nearly every national player— lives and breathes. But truly, we were hard pressed to find tough questions for Verizon Wireless Regional President Mario […]

We’ve long tracked down the region’s mobile leaders to get them into conversation about Philadelphia’s market.

Tapping regional executive leaders has certainly shed light on how the mobile market in Philadelphia—crowded by nearly every national player— lives and breathes. But truly, we were hard pressed to find tough questions for Verizon Wireless Regional President Mario Turco. With proven customer loyalty and less reported dropped calls, Verizon’s network has done well for the company.

Of course, that the iPhone isn’t available on the network has been a media sore spot for the company since the phone launched.

But that wasn’t why we reached out. It was more important for us to breakdown how the company exists within Philadelphia—including the relationships it has developed with citizens and local government—and to explore how Verizon will move into next-generation mobile technologies.

After the jump, we talk with Turco about Verizon’s network infrastructure investments, partnerships with the community and about the roll-out of its 4G technology.

How did get your start with Verizon Wireless and how did you end up as a Regional Manager?

I started with company 14 years ago in July in customer service. I spent time in the New York market supporting indirect [sales] locations, national big box retail and mom and pop shops. I came to Philadelphia in September 2004, working with the indirect [sales] channel there, the store channel, the business-to-business channel. In July 2009, I took my recent position with Verizon.

What do you do now?

I oversee all operations and sales activity, network buildout, customer service relations in the market and any additional marketing activities. I cover Eastern and Central Pennsylvania and Jersey from Princeton down south all the way to Delaware.

Verizon has 92 million customers nationally. Is there a way to quantify a number locally?

Of 21 markets [across the country], we’re one of the top 10 markets.

You guys have great customer perception nationally, great loyalty and reports say less dropped calls. How have you invested in infrastructure to keep expectations met locally?

As we look at timing, last year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of first wireless call to take place in the Philadelphia market. The same time this year we celebrated the 10th anniversary of Verizon. If you look at infrastructure, the past 10 years have been based on our network and the constant investment we make in our network.

Since 2000, we’ve invested $1.5 billion in network capacity, buildout and infrastructure here in the Philadelphia market alone. We dont forget what built this great company; a cell phone is only as good as the network it’s on. The network is at the core of it.

Philadelphia is a busy wireless market—the major carriers, the low-income carriers. Any interesting stories about being a competitor in the region that is unusual compared with other markets?

I don’t want to say that [Philly is] the most competivive market, but it’s been unique that when a MetroPCS or a Cricket or Clear has started, they pick Philly’s market as one of those places. As we see new competition enter the market, we go to basic core fundamentals—our network, our buildout, the investment we make in community. If I think back to 10 years ago, we had a couple hundred employees in the market. Today, there’s 1,600 employees in the market servicing customers.

I know this is another side of the business, but how has Verizon’s entrance of FiOS in Philadelphia helped the Wireless side improve business and relationships in Philadelphia with customers?

“As we see new competition enter the market, we go to basic core fundamentals—our network, our buildout, the investment we make in the community.”-Mario Turco

Awareness is a big part of this. If I look back to five years ago and ask average customer what they thought was the most important screen in household, it was between television, then desktop PC, then cell phone. Fast forward five years later, they’re going to tell you their cell phone. It helps the wireless infrastructure and brand awareness. When you have somebody that whose house is wired with Verizon, it definitely helps that loyalty and stickyness factor.

And how about with government?

We’ve done different programs now partnering with the city to provide additional discounts or awareness to customers. [Mayor] Nutter and I, a couple weeks ago, kicked off Verizon’s partnership with Recyclebank. Nutter has the goal to be one of the greenest cities in the United States. Recyclebank offers reward points for people in the city that are recycling. Verizon is the exclusive cell phone provider partner.

This is not specific to Philly proper, but in Tom’s River School District, we’ve partnered with them and [kids are] using our smartphones to do their homework assignments and review their cirriculum. It’s making it fun and interesting for someone in the fifth grade to embrace technology. Their test scores have improved by 30 percent. We’re working with other school districts and informing them of the technology and capabilities in Jersey and in Delaware. When did you ever hear a fifth grade say their excited to do their homework?

Is there an opportunity to do that with the School District of Philadelphia?

We hosted some webinars recently and invited 8,000 educators thoughout this market. It’s something we’re looking at and working on.

I’m fascinated by Android outpacing iPhone sales recently. Do you have any region-specific or demographic information about who is buying Droid?

The device is attracting all demographics, all segments. As we look at infancy of smartphones, Blackberry had that business centric stereotype. As we look at where smartphones are today, you have soccer moms utilizing the device. Kids are using them now. Whatever the experience is, I think there something in there for everybody.

Are you guys prepping 4G Long Term Evolution roll-outs in Philadelphia? When can we expect a trial or commercial release? May 2011, CEO Lowell McAdam has said.

The top 30 markets by end of the year will have LTE. Early second quarter next year, you’ll start to see devices hit. As far as what we’re doing to prep for it, it’s the network buildup. We’re following that same blueprint when we went to 2G, and 3G. By 2013, we’re going to have entire country end-to-end from 4G perspective. We don’t have a specific trial in Philadelphia.

What will differentiate your 4G service from Clear, Sprint and Comcast 4G services?

The public understands the reliability of our network and our network message. Look at all evolutions of [4G] wireless technology and the most consistent—maybe i’m biased here—the most consistent one has been Verizon Wireless. We drew a line in the sand that we’re going with 4G Long Term Evolution technology. And when we’re ready to launch in the markets, there’s been 4 years of getting our network infrastructure prepared for that.

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Brian James Kirk

Brian James Kirk is a cofounder of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. Previously, Kirk was Web Editor of PlanPhilly, an independent online news resource covering planning and development issues in Philadelphia, and a freelance writer and designer. He resides in South Philadelphia.

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