Sprint CEO: The iPad Has Been Good to Us

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse

It might not be selling iPads in its stores like rivals AT&T and Verizon, but Sprint is benefitting from the brisk demand for Apple’s hot new device, regardless. Dan Hesse, CEO of the third-largest carrier in the U.S., told me in an interview that most iPads being sold are of the Wi-Fi variety, and as a result, the company has seen an uptick in demand for its Overdrive (3G/4G) MiFi mobile wireless-hotspot device, as people use it to connect their iPads to the Internet when on the go.

What about the iPhone? After all, iPad and iPhone seem to go hand in hand. When I joked with Hesse about how (unlike every other U.S. wireless company) his company wasn’t publicly linked to the iPhone, he declined to comment and politely added that Sprint doesn’t comment on its relationship with vendors and the conversations it has with third parties.

For now, the Overland Park, Kan.-based wireless carrier is betting on two major smart phone platforms: BlackBerry and Android. HTC Evo and Samsung Epic are two of its Android-powered 3G/4G devices, and Hesse said he has high hopes for a new clamshell BlackBerry Style. So far, the availability of these smartphones has helped the company turn the corner, and for the second quarter in a row, add new post-paid subscribers and show a nice bump in revenues, although the company registered losses for the most recent quarter.

When I asked Hesse if smartphones were the key to his company’s turnaround, he pointed out that — in order of importance –- customer experience (which includes a great network and support), a simple value proposition, and then the devices themselves are going to be the key to Sprint’s future.

“Smartphones [are] part of a bigger value proposition, because you need to have a network that can support that smartphone,” he said.  Sprint is offering WiMAX-based service it calls 4G in 55 cities and will launch in new markets like San Francisco relatively soon.

Hesse told me that in the most recent quarter, nearly 60 percent of devices sold (or upgraded) for use on their CDMA network were smartphones, and as of now, 45 percent of Sprint (excluding non-Sprint brands) customers have a smartphone. By the end of 2010, half of Sprint customers will have smartphones, he added, and quipped. “They are very mainstream.”

Part II of my conversation with Hesse will appear soon, and will focus on Clearwire, LTE and other related topics.

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