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Remembering Sprint ION

Back in 2001 we had the pleasure of a year of Sprint’s ION DSL service. ION remains to this day the best broadband service that I’ve experienced. It’s a terrible pity that Sprint shut it down.

ION stood for, “Integrated On-Demand Network.” It was an xDSL drop to a CPD (CPD = Customer Premises Device) that presented network connections (RJ-45) and phone connections (RJ-11s.) It was offered in a couple of packages. We had the one targeting SOHO users, which was 2 fixed IP adresses and 4 phones lines. For $149/mo the service included 1.5/768 data and unlimited local calling & domestic long distance. There was also a lesser service with 1 IP and 2 phone lines for $99/mo.

It was a truly converged service. One copper pair to the house. All services derived from that. One management portal on the web that took care of everything from voicemail, to e-mail, to DNS.

The Sprint ION interface device (click for larger image)

The 4 line service came with a CPD that included a built-in battery back-up. This made the service a valid replacement for POTS lines. The battery backup was reputed to last for three hours, but I never actually needed to test its endurance in the real world. The few times we lost power lasted less than an hour and phones never failed. Back then my network was not built to survive a power outage.

Our experience with ION was oustanding, once the installation was completed. Getting it installed was tricky. Not due to technology, just getting the install scheduled, then completed. It seemed that the management group failed to understand the variability involved in such installations. We were rescheduled more than once. Once it was installed we had litterally no problems with the service over the course of more than year.

The economics of the service were good as well. Our three POTS lines were costing around $110/mo at the time, with DSL/Cable modem and long distance usage on top of that. At $149/mo. all-in ION was a deal, even though it required a 2 year contract.

Stepping back to see the bigger picture, the economics of our actual experience were incredible. We took advantage of a promotional offer that included 2 months free, free installation and free hardware. We had the service for a year when Sprint decided to exit the residential DSL business and terminate the service. They were forced to buy out our contract and paid us $900 for the priveledge of shutting it down.

  • We paid them: 10 x $150 = $1500
  • They paid us: $900
  • Net result = $ 600/yr for DSL, 4 lines & all our calls

It’s easy to see how Sprint lost money in the end. It would have been great if they’d continued the service. I wonder if they’d have made money in a wider rollout? If this type of service was offered by someone* now I’d be all over it. It just makes so much sense.

In order for it to make sense for me, in my SOHO circumstances, it needs to be more than the residential “triple play” that is commonly offered now. It needs to provide fixed IP addresses and have tech support staff that really knows something. Not just minimum wage slaves to read “turn off the modem and reboot the PC” from a script.

It was a pain to have to get another DSL service installed only a year after the ION installation. We were recommended to MCI/Earthlink DSL as part of the ION exit package.

P.S. – A lot of my thoughts about strategy for switching to 100% VOIP were derived from the experience of using & transitioning from POTS, to ION, to Vonage, and eventually to Asterisk and handful of ITSPs.

* other than AT&T. We don’t do business with AT&T. See here for details.

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. I was a beta user of ION. I got 6 Mbps downloads, not 1.5. And in addition to the 4 phone lines I got a free 1-800 number (I paid for calls made to the 1-800 number but no additional fee just to have one). THe initial install was a nightmare (10 hours).

    I had issues at the beginning of the service (went through 3 of the boxes) and they didn’t charge me for using it, but once I got it going they still didn’t charge me for it. And then they bought out my contract when they shut it down. So I basically made $900 off using the service. Poor accounting services certainly played a part in its failure.

    Plus I think they were a victim of being a bit too early. They priced the service too high (they pre-dated DSL so there was little competition, but when DSL kicked in they didn’t reduce prices). Not too long after the service left beta DSL and cable came out at half the cost. Plus for DSL you needed DSL filters but you didn’t have to route your phones to a special box, difficult to do in many houses.

    1. At 11,300 feet from the CO I was not able to get the performance you report. Yes, installation was a beast, but once installed the service was very reliable. At the time that I had it DSL was also widely available. ION remains the only truly converged voice & data service that I’ve ever had. It was really good, and I’d have it again if I could.

  2. As the Group Manager – Product Management for Consumer ION, thank you for your kind memories. No one was more disappointed than me when they pulled the plug.

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