As promised, Sprint has turned its high-definition voice network on across its nationwide 2G service. The technology, which improves the quality and audio range of standard mobile voice calls, is now supported on 28 postpaid and 33 prepaid smartphones, and Sprint estimates about 16 million customers are already using an HD-capable device.
Sprint revealed the news at a launch event at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications on Monday, along with a slew of other announcements, including a new exclusive phone, the Galaxy S5 Sport. Fitness was actually a big theme of the day, as Sprint unveiled a new application skin for the device and other smartphones focused on exercise and health. Sprint also launched a new service called “Framily Wall,” a kind of family social network and collaboration tool.
The HD nationwide voice rollout will be a big marketing coup for Sprint, though it will take some time before its customers start noticing consistent improvements in their call quality. To make an HD call, both handsets and the mediating networks need to support HD. While Sprint has solved the network issue, if a customer with an HD-capable phone dials a customer without one, they’re still going to be engaging in a plain old 2G call.
As Sprint’s HD-capable phones gradually penetrate deeper into its subscriber base and other customers roll out similar services (T-Mobile already has), more voice traffic will start moving over to HD.
Sprint’s Framily Wall app is an example of the new breed of anti-social networks we’re starting to see emerge. Instead of bring in your broader social circle, the app narrows its focus to the nuclear family and close friends. The app was developed by Family&Co and allows a small group to post messages and share photos, calendars, lists and contacts . The app also lets members share their locations. It’s very similar to the family network that Life360 is building on top of its locator app.
Though called Framily Wall, the service isn’t tied to Sprint’s new Framily plans, which offer collective discounts to loosely linked groups of subscribers. Any Sprint subscriber will be able to use the app and network for free, though Sprint will offer a premium plan that includes cloud storage video sharing and video messaging for $2.99 a month. In addition, people on other carriers can join a Sprint Framily Wall by downloading the app.
In an interview after the event, CEO Dan Hesse told me that Framily is becoming a new core platform on which Sprint is trying to build services. It’s a rather loose platform, Hesse admits, because Sprint isn’t limiting any of its new services to Framily participants. But Framily accounts are particularly beneficial to Sprint, helping it recruit and retain customers, so Sprint will try to offer additional incentives to those customers, Hesse said. For instance, Sprint’s new partnership with Spotify gives all Sprint customers a three-month subscription for free. That increases to six months for Framily members.
“We don’t want to offer something to the exclusion of anyone else,” Hesse said, but Framily members will often get a more attractive offer.
Finally Sprint also announced its answer to T-Mobile’s new Test Drive program, which gives potential customers an iPhone 5s with unlimited access to try out for seven days. Sprint is offering a money back guarantee on all device fees, activation charges and services used within 30 days of a customer signing up. It’s certainly an enticing offer, but it is different from T-Mobile’s program.
With the Sprint offer you’re basically signing up for service and getting a refund if you cancel before the end of your first month. T-Mobile and Apple are sending out loaner phones, letting a potential customer test out the device and T-Mobile’s network while remaining with their current carriers.
This post was updated at 1:50 PM PT with information about Sprint’s guarantee program.