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Sprint unveils consumer ION service

The long distance firm expands its one-stop-shopping mix of broadband Internet and phone services to the residential market.

Sprint said today it would expand its one-stop-shopping mix of broadband Internet and advanced telephone services to the residential market, starting in three cities this fall.

As reported earlier, Sprint has been planning a consumer rollout of its ION, or Integrated On-Demand Network, since introducing the service nearly a year ago. But until today, the firm's marketing and sales efforts have been focused on large businesses.

ION is Sprint's system for linking data and voice calls into single, flexible network. For consumers, this will mean the integration of high-speed Internet service with advanced phone services, such as customizable additional phone lines, forwarding messages to a Sprint wireless phone, and other applications.

The service marks Sprint's most concerted push yet at competing withAT&T's planned voice, video, and Internet services over cable TV lines.

Like AT&T's cable service, Sprint's ION will aim at luring consumers away from the local phone companies with packages that link telephone and Internet services.

ION subscribers will be charged a flat rate for virtually unlimited local, long distance, and Internet service, the company said. The price is expected to be between $100 and $150, but the company said it is still developing a pricing structure.

The consumer service will initially be rolled out in Seattle, Denver, and Kansas City this fall. Sprint will use high-speed digital subscriber line (DSL) telephone wires and wireless technology to provide residential Net access.

Sprint has been testing the service with consumers in Gardner, Kansas, for the past two years, doubling the size of its trial this month, the company said.

Analysts said the ION service would be unlikely to appeal to the mass market soon, however.

"I see this as an important baby step," said Jupiter Communications senior analyst Abhi Chaki last week. "But by the nature of the service, the people who end up taking it will be the small businesses and home offices."