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Summary:

For Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, it has been a good week. His company reported uptick in new subscribers and revenues even as losses deepened. In this first part of a three-part interview, Hesse shares his thoughts on smartphones, iPads, and importance of a rock-solid network.

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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  1. It sounds like Sprint is negotiating with Apple for the iPhone.

    1. Now this is one carrier I would like to see offer an iPhone — a next generation iPhone ;-)

      1. Yeah…people spend a lot of time gushing about the potential of a Verizon iPhone when a Sprint/T-Mobile combo release would give Apple a pretty comparable potential user base.

  2. I am one of those iPad owners who use the Sierra Wireless hotspot for my network access. The 4G speeds (in San Antonio, TX) are usually more than 3Mbs (down) but the service is spotty. The device (the Overdrive) is poorly made compared to anything from Apple. The Sprint website is obtuse. Customer service was friendly, but the people were not very tech savvy. Still, I would recommend the service to iPad users who are lucky to live in a Sprint 4G market.

    Sprint needs to bang on Sierra Wireless for a better device and focus on improving its customer service and broadening its 4G network. Sprint is not in the same universe as Apple when it comes to quality, innovation, and service. Rollouts of competing 4G-speed networks will end Sprint’s current monopoly on wireless speed (in a limited number of metro markets) and likely the ephemeral advantage that Mr. Hesse now celebrates. I suspect he knows this. Sprint needs to cultivate this fleeting moment and work hard and fast to redefine their brand. I do not sense that kind of energy when I deal with them, but it would be good to see a carrier actually step up to the bar that has been raised by Apple.

    1. I think the newer hotspot devices are better in my opinion and frankly Novatel has been making better MiFi devices. One of the more interesting things I have seen with Overdrive: it runs out of juice very very fast. I still love the idea of a 4G connection :-)

      1. You’re right, Om. The Overdrive isn’t very “juicy”. ;-)

      2. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a refresh of the Overdrive sometime soon. The initial version was admittedly (by Sierra execs) a bit rushed to get it out for Sprint’s big CES intro last year.

        Anyone out there have reactions/reviews of the hotspot capabilities in the EVO or the Epic?

    2. Funny,
      the only reason I’ve been into a Sprint store was to purchase one of those Virgin Mobile no contract MiFi devices (which I love by the way). I use it for both iPhone and iPad while travelling.

  3. Sprint CEO thanks iPad for hotspot sales; coy on Apple relationship – SlashGear Friday, October 29, 2010

    [...] wanting to get online via Sprint’s CDMA/WiMAX network.  However, he declined to talk to GigaOm about the iPhone and potential relationships with [...]

  4. Interesting to hear people’s perspectives on the Sprint Overdrive and their 4G connection. Have been using my Verizon MiFi as my main internet connection ever since I moved. I’ve been pretty happy with it. Would love it to be a little faster, a little cheaper, and no cap though. *day dreams*

    1. Justin, exactly the daydream Sprint seems to be addressing. I get up to 7Mbs down with no cap on my 2-year plan. I used it as my only ISP at present (because I am mobile). $60/mo is not bad, but it kills me that I have to maintain a separate AT&T plan on my iPhone. A single carrier is my daydream. ;-)

      Either that or turn the iPad into a phone with a bluetooth headset. I would love to have a single device to lug around.

    2. Useful info for you:

      http://lgponthemove.blogspot.com/2010/10/tech-tips-getting-most-out-of-your-mifi.html

      Don’t know if you’re in a 4G zone, but Clearwire does the same job on 4G for $45. I’m upgrading as soon as it comes to town.

  5. FinallyNow…Expand Friday, October 29, 2010

    I love that a writer finally wrote “Sprint is offering WiMAX-based service it calls 4G” instead of saying Sprint is offering truly 4G service. Theoretically, WiMax is still very much a 3G service. Just cause it’s WiMax does not make it 4G. Meet the ITU’s standards set for 4G makes a service 4G. Neither LTE nor WiMax meets those standards.

  6. Sprint Nextel is located in Overland Park, Kan. Not Overland, Kan.

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  8. iPads Boost Business for Sprint Friday, October 29, 2010

    [...] Dan Hesse, CEO of the third-largest carrier in the U.S., told me in an interview that… company has seen an uptick in demand for its Overdrive (3G/4G) MiFi wireless-hotspot device, as people use it to connect their iPads to the Internet when on the go. Despite more and more analysts predicting that the day is drawing near when Apple's full product line of iDevices will be compatible with multiple mobile carriers in the US, it's evident that Apple's current exclusivity agreement with AT&T to carry the iPhone still hasn't prevented other carriers from monetizing the "environment of Apple" that encompasses the mobile world. Gigaom [...]

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