updated 10:10 am EST, Thu February 10, 2011
Sprint adds 1.1m, says will survive Verizon iPhone
Sprint saw two rare milestones today even as it braced for the possible impact of the Verizon iPhone launch. The carrier added 1.1 million cellphone users, its highest additions since early 2006. Of those, it also saw its first gain in contract subscribers for the first time since spring 2007, adding 58,000 for the first time.
The company could directly credit Android to the gains. About 69 percent of Sprint's new subscribers were buying smartphones. At the end of its fiscal year, 50 percent of its total base was on one of the more advanced devices, most of which use Google's platform on the network. Roughly 10 percent of the base upgraded just in the fall.
Executives didn't expect the Verizon iPhone to have a major impact on sales, although they were elusive on any specific strategy. Sprint had a "substantial and aggressive" plan to get customers on contract that discouraged them from leaving as well as a strong device lineup. They pointed to the loyalty shown in the fall as an indicator, including both the growth and churn. At 1.86 percent, the customer turnover for contract users was the company's lowest for any fall quarter in its history.
The "key for us is just to provide a strong customer experience," Sprint said, without saying what that was. Most of its early 2011 approach hinges on unique Android devices like the dual-screen Kyocera Echo.
The carrier nonetheless admitted that it anticipated at least some effect from the Verizon iPhone, as Sprint customers who wanted an iPhone, but refused to switch to AT&T, might drain its user base. "[We're] not saying there won't be any impact," the carrier warned.
Sprint has repeatedly expressed its desire for the iPhone but has been conspicuously silent whenever the subject of talks has come up. It has usually deferred the question to Apple using the same language Verizon used when it had an iPhone deal in place but didn't want to lose existing sales.
The company finished by adding that it still hadn't made a decision on whether or not to use LTE for future 4G to add-to or replace its WiMAX network. Its Network Vision project gives it the option of adding LTE to its all-in-one cell sites, Sprint said, and it has the wireless spectrum to use LTE without needing to buy or repurpose what it already has. The company declined to be drawn into giving a timeline for any decisions.