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Sprint CEO: The iPad Has Been Good to Us

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It might not be selling iPads in its stores like rivals AT&T (s T) and Verizon (s VZ), but Sprint (s S) is benefitting from the brisk demand for Apple’s (s AAPL) 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 (s rimm) and Android (s goog). 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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27 Responses to “Sprint CEO: The iPad Has Been Good to Us”

  1. There is no doubt about it how smart phones like the iphone have become invaluable to a lot of us. They are the biggest revolution in mobile phones since the mobile network itself. I can’t wait to see what they release next.

  2. FinallyNow...Expand

    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.

  3. 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*

  4. 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.