LAS VEGAS — Though acknowledging that the company has faced significant challenges with more still to come, Dan Gillison, Sprint's national director of state and local public safety, told attendees at the International Wireless Communications Exposition (IWCE) this week that the company's financial health is improving and that it has taken steps that would allow it to "weather the storm." Gillison also said that Sprint remains committed to its iDEN push-to-talk, or P2T, network.

Gillison said that improving the company's cash position, controlling expenses and reducing debt has been a major focus and that Sprint now is in a position of "solid liquidity." Though the company posted a $1.6 billion loss for the fourth quarter of 2008, Gillison reported that Sprint's OBITDA (operating income before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) for the same quarter was $1.73 billion. The company posted revenue for the full year of $35.6 billion, he said.

The effort to maximize liquidity will continue, according to Gillison. "Cash is king," he said.

The company also will continue its efforts to improve network performance and customer satisfaction, Gillison said. He reported that Sprint has poured $15 billion into its networks since 2006 and said the investment is paying dividends. According to Gillison, dropped and blocked calls overall are at an all-time low, and customer service calls are at the lowest levels since the merger with Nextel in 2005.

"We realized that [customer satisfaction] was one area we needed to address as a company, and we have addressed it," he said. "The customer experience has been getting progressively better."

One area that needs to be addressed further is the company's iDEN network, which many in the public-safety sector rely upon for non-mission critical communications. Sprint lost 1.1 million P2T subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2008 and started the year with 12.4 million subscribers, about one-third less than it had at the end of the third quarter in 2007.

"We've had quite a bit of churn, but it has slowed down," Gillison said. He added that CEO Dan Hesse is concerned enough about the churn that he has instructed the company's chief customer service officer to figure out why so many have defected from the P2T network.

"We now we have the same person who has been building back up [overall] customer retention and customer growth, the same person who has fixed that, investigating the root causes of our iDEN losses," Gillison said.

He added said the problem doesn't appear to be the network. "We had several third parties test the network in the last quarter and we had the fewest dropped calls ever. So, we think we're getting better."

Gillison said that Sprint is recommitting to iDEN and plans to reinvigorate the network as well as its relationship with Motorola.

"We see the iDEN network being maintained for quite some time; we don't have an end date," Gillison said. "We see iDEN as a great network not only for public-safety, but also for some or our customers on the consumer side … who want to connect and exchange information rapidly without going through the public telephone switching network."