Sprint Loses Less Money, More Subscribers

spr_hor_k_rSprint (s S) today reported a loss of $1.62 billion, which looks much better than the nearly $30 billion loss it reported a year ago at this time, thanks to its writedown of Nextel. However, the carrier is still struggling with subscriber losses (it plans to cut 8,000 jobs), and it’s unclear if the launch of the Palm Pre phone, the Clear WiMAX network and a competitive prepaid calling plan can save it.

Sprint reported sales of $8.4 billion and ended the quarter with 49.3 million subscribers after losing 1.3 million. Of those lost, 1.1 million were postpaid subscribers who have annual contracts with the carrier. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has been trying to stem the subscriber exodus since his arrival — and had said it should ease at the end of 2008. Instead Sprint saw about 4.6 million subscribers defect in the last year, with 2.6 million leaving in the second half.

To attract customers, Sprint hopes to launch the new Palm Pre phone in the second first half of 2009, and is also releasing competitive calling plans, including a $149.99 monthly plan for unlimited data on laptops and phones, including unlimited voice and texts. On the prepaid side, Sprint introduced a $50 plan with unlimited voice and data through its Boost Mobile subsidiary. However, yesterday T-Mobile launched a $50-a-month prepaid plan in San Francisco that has some analysts warning of a price war among the smaller carriers. That’s good for consumers, but bad for Sprint, which is fighting for survival on far too many fronts.