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Summary:

Beleaguered Sprint has taken a dual-pronged attack to stem the flood of lost subscribers. The network has jumped firmly behind Android with the EVO 4G. The announcement today of the Samsung Epic 4G demonstrates the firm’s realization that its 4G window of opportunity is closing.

Sprint Epic 4G thumb


Sprint said today that it will carry the latest Android phone, the Samsung Epic. Beleaguered Sprint has been taking a dual-pronged approach to stemming the flood of subscribers lost over the past few years by betting heavily on Android and its WiMAX fourth-generation wireless network. But can the launch of more 4G Android handsets in the next few months win it enough subscribers before Verizon’s Droid line-up gets access to the coming Verizon 4G network?

Sprint has jumped firmly on the Android train, starting with the HTC Hero smartphone last year and more recently, the EVO 4G. The EVO 4G quickly became the darling of the Android world given its impressive hardware specs and the ability to tap into Sprint’s other weapon — the WiMAX network. The EVO sold out at Sprint stores throughout the U.S. as soon as it was available, but the carrier is not content to rest on that success.

The Epic 4G is Samsung’s latest member of the Galaxy S product line, and the first Samsung phone to gain WiMAX capability. It’s a 4-inch Android phone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, and should go head-to-head with Verizon’s Droid line of Android phones. Sprint is pushing its 4G network with both the EVO and the Epic, as Verizon’s nex- generation network is not yet up and running for consumers — and won’t have handsets until next year at the earliest. However, the advantage Sprint enjoys having an active 4G network will not last long, as Verizon has concluded technical trials of its upcoming LTE network and will be expanding it to test markets shortly.

If it seems Sprint is pushing 4G Android phones a bit desperately, it’s with good reason. The company has not shared the number of subscribers gained with the EVO 4G launch, but given the strong sales numbers the phone is already a good performer. Sprint attributes some of that success to the availability of 4G, and expects that to continue with the Samsung Epic 4G. Verizon has indicated its LTE network will be coming online this year, covering 100 million people, so Sprint knows its advantage is short-lived even though it has a healthy head start. Sprint’s 4G network (powered by Clearwire) already reaches 44 million potential subscribers, with 120 million by the end of this year.

It will realistically be well into next year before Verizon can reach enough subscribers to make a serious run at Sprint’s 4G, but that doesn’t give Sprint a very big window of opportunity. The gap is narrowing, and will close altogether far too quickly. Sprint better get as many subscribers as possible tied down to data contracts over the next few months, to counter the coming Verizon Droid army.

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  1. all numbers are not created equal, Sprint has far higher percentage of non-family plan subscribers (which are much more profitable) than VZW or ATT. when you look at actual accounts the gap narrows considerably, but Tmo is still left in the dust.

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  2. James – “desperately” seems to be an odd choice of adverb there. If Sprint has manufacturers with phones and the 4G network today – why would they not be pushing them?

    I think Sprint will be competitive against Verizons LTE for two reasons:
    1) Verizon will have to be very aggressive to create the same footprint any time soon,
    2) Verizon has already said they will implement usage-based pricing with LTE. If Sprint/Clear can hold-the-line on their current pricing schemes – they will compete well on price.

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    1. That’s a fair interpretation. I do feel that Sprint is rushing these phones to market for a reason.

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  3. worldbfree4me Monday, June 28, 2010

    Not worried one bit. I have been with Sprint since 1997 and will remain with them unless the Company goes under or they start to nickel and dime me to death like ATT or Verizon and if that happens, hello Moto on T-Mobile. I suspect others are in my camp as well (Loyal to the Company and not Hardware), with the exception being iPhone lovers. If Metro PCS was the only carrier with an iDont, they would no doubt give them the business thus sinking Ma Bell IMO.

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  4. I have had a Sprint account (f/k/a Sprint PCS – the first all digital network – remember that?) since the Fall of 1997. I have also had other lines on other carriers from time to time, but always kept the Sprint line active as it ultimately proved a better overall value and experience than any of the other carriers. I am a power user and have had almost every smartphone to come along since the Treo 180. Sprint has always had the best data plans and pricing. As for coverage, none of the GSM carriers – regardless of their name at the time – had the voice and data quality combo. Also, both ATT and T-Mo have given me surprise charges on my bills and their pricing was never as good of a value. As for Verizon, its pricing is insane and it locks down devices, a non-starter for me. Also, Sprint and Verizon allow roaming on each others towers so coverage is a non-issue in my mind. BTW – I have had to travel to as many as 40 cities som years on business and have rarely had a coverage issue with Sprint. Now with 4G, Sprint is again ahead of the competition. With all of the pros, I struggle to understand how the company is always viewed as knocking on death’s door. The only gripe WAS customer service, but the CS is now industry best according to some reports. Finally, Sprint often has the best devices (save for the void of the iPhone which is shared by everyone save ATT). If Sprint doesn’t succeed, I would go with T-Mo, but I really believe that Sprint is the best overall and should succeed. It just needs to shake up its image and get folks to try the service!

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    1. My experience is roughly the same as yours. There has been a tech press theme for a year or so along the lines of “Sprint is doomed using WiMax because LTE is the only way forward”. This blog hasn’t done it, but it’s been played extensively elsewhere in the GigaOM world.

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  5. I’ve had Sprint coverage since last year (when I purchased a Palm Pre). Due to hardware issues with my Pre, I’ve had several occasions to interact with Sprint and their customer service has been outstanding!
    Their service plans are far more affordable than the big guys, are more inclusive, and they’re easy to understand.
    My EVO experience has been excellent, and I’m happy the phone’s on Sprint.
    Years ago, Sprint’s service was not very good. Their coverage was shoddy, and their customer service was, well, non-existent. That’s no longer the case. I’d recommend them over any other carrier located here in the U.S.
    They’ve really turned things around.

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  6. First Sprint has to get the 4G up to snuff.

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  7. Sprint should gain even more customers through their new partnership with Best Buy. I’m thinking of switching from a combination of AT&T and Verizon to just T-Mobile. For my needs T-Mobile is cheaper than Sprint.

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  8. I have been nothing but happy on Sprints network since I switched, having been on all three of the other four major carriers. T Mobile wasn’t bad, but they coverage wasn’t enough for me, my G1 would too often go into “paperweight” mode. Verizon was great but expensive, and ATT, well, they have significant problems from their plan values to their CS to their coverage, and the iPhone was not enough of a positive to outweigh those negatives for me. I hope Sprint keeps moving onward and upward, and I see their company as being aggressive enough and flexible(which can’t be underestimated in this mobile environment) enough to move forward into the 4G space, whether it be WiMax or, more likely, LTE.

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