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Friday Q&A: Shawn Glisson of Boost Mobile

You already know the prepaid market is thick and crowded. That’s particularly the case for Philadelphia, the largest market in the country that has opened the floodgates to no-contract, unlimited plans, as you can well guess by the advertisements from Metro PCS, Cricket Wireless and Boost Mobile that line SEPTA trains. As Verizon and AT&T […]

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You already know the prepaid market is thick and crowded.
That’s particularly the case for Philadelphia, the largest market in the country that has opened the floodgates to no-contract, unlimited plans, as you can well guess by the advertisements from Metro PCS, Cricket Wireless and Boost Mobile that line SEPTA trains.
As Verizon and AT&T take hold of valued contracted customers, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel, the parent of Boost, are fighting over lower-margin prepaid plans, so the fight is only spreading.
The competition has at times raged hotly, as even Shawn Glisson, a Boost PR spokesman can admit. But then, Glisson, who had a run with former legendary West Chester electronics and 1980s home computer innovator Commodore International, knows a thing or two about Philadelphia.
He’s now based in the Irvine, Calif. headquarters of Boost, now an arm of Sprint-Nextel, but after the jump, he handicaps the prepaid battle in Philly, tells us what’s next for the market and says something nice about Cricket.
Interview edited for length and clarity. [Full Disclosure: The author is a Boost Mobile customer]

Why has Philadelphia become the battlegrounds for the prepaid battle?
Well, it is, Philadelphia is only one of two major markets that have all three of the big no-contract unlimited competitors, the other being Las Vegas.
…There are a couple things. The demographics lend themselves quite well. The non-contract business used to be focused on individuals who were quite young with no credit and immigrants perhaps, even though now [the market has] matured to cover a large swath of people. The city has some of the best universities and a large educated class, but also a large working class of varying demographics, and that’s part of the attraction.
Has the city government been particularly compliant in letting prepaid carriers come into Philly?

…Well, we’ve been in the Philly market since 2005, so I can’t answer that. For Cricket and Metro, well, the new spectrum auction for� new bandwidth probably helped them enter into the market.
So, it’s a competitive market. Give us your sales pitch on why Boost can be different.

There’s value and quality and the combination about service. J.D. Power recently selected Boost Mobile one of the top [prepaid carriers] when it comes to customer service. That’s a quality network with superior customer service.
Players in the market, including Boost’s parent Sprint, though, have been losing money fast. What’s next?

In the wireless industry, the prepaid space is the hottest market. The industry trend is that prepaid will proportionally outgrow the contract customers. Prepaid already dominates Europe and has half the Asian market. North America is really the anomaly.
…It’s from the American love of credit and buying the future. That, and in past years, the handsets were so expensive, so you’d be buying handset with a contract added on, now even high-end handsets are reasonable so that trend will change…
For years it has been said it would dominate the industry, so you want to be competitive in that space. Look at our grandparents. They changed their behaviors [because of the Great Depression]. Now look at where we are today. Customers will make that turn, and prepaid will have that value.
So who’s your biggest competition?

Well, can I say something you may not have thought of? We have found… we’re competing against the land line companies, too. Instead of having a land line and a cell phone, now you can have an unlimited plan. So, being a replacement for the land line, Comcast and Boost are going head to head.
Where will prepaid go next?

Well, it has been about the densest urban areas for the market’s beginnings, in Los Angeles and Miami, Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia. More and more you’ll see the market reaching out to suburban areas. [Because of demographics and other limitations] that’s where we began, but prepaid is more mainstream now, so there’s this bigger and untapped market outside the urban setting. Historically, West Chester and King of Prussia wouldn’t be targeted for prepaid for core markets. You’ll see that more.
And, we’re watching Sprint buy Virgin Mobile [for the prepaid market] and you’ll see more acquisitions and mergers like that from corporate perspective. The other arena is that, at one time, the no contract service was focused on really basic service, but you’ll see the broad selection of handsets and more and more other offering for things like data services and software service come that historically wasn’t in the prepaid space.
Say something nice about Cricket Wireless.
Well, we’ve enjoyed subscriber growth and Metro and Cricket have too, so I think there is a benefit from the three of us all elevating the knowledge and awareness of prepaid. That might be benefiting the whole market, and, if I can say this, the consumer too.
Every Friday, Technically Philly brings an interview with a leader or innovator in Philadelphia�s technology community. See others here.

Companies: Cricket / T-Mobile

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