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Sprint is down, but not out, execs say

Matt Hamblen, Computerworld | March 24, 2011
ORLANDO -- Visitors at the International CTIA Wireless conference here this week talked incessantly about the proposed $39 billion AT&T takeover of T-Mobile USA. Analysts and vendors continually laid odds on whether government regulators will approve the deal.

ORLANDO -- Visitors at the International CTIA Wireless conference here this week talked incessantly about the proposed $39 billion AT&T takeover of T-Mobile USA. Analysts and vendors continually laid odds on whether government regulators will approve the deal.

Meanwhile, Sprint -- arguably the biggest wireless player hurt by the deal -- mostly kept to its game plan, showing off a new glasses-free 3D smartphone and pen-input tablet, both developed by HTC.

Sprint and HTC staged an elaborate event Tuesday with 3D movie clips and demonstrations of the new devices for bloggers, who recognize that their readers crave detailed information on the latest cool tools.

Kyocera also showed off an unusual dual-screen, Android-based Echo smartphone that will run on Sprint's network. The device will sell for $199.99 after rebate with a two-year agreement, starting on April 17 (with online reservations starting Saturday, March 26).

This week's show seemed divided between a mostly younger generation of device fanatics who believe that new smartphones and tablets will drive the wireless industry forward and a mostly older generation focused on networks and financial deals. Many of the latter group recalled when the U.S. government stepped in to break up the Bell telecommunications monopoly in the 1980s.

"It's like we're putting the Bells back together again," remarked Berge Ayvazian, a wireless analyst now working as a consultant at Light Reading, who argued that government approval of AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile is no sure thing.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse came out swinging during a keynote panel session on Tuesday, one day after the carrier's stock crashed by more than 13% in reaction to Sunday's AT&T/T-Mobile deal. Hesse contended that the deal would hurt consumers and would consolidate too many wireless subscribers -- and revenue -- in the hands of two players: the combined AT&T/T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.

Sprint would be left a distant third, he noted.

Sprint's Trevor Van Norman, director of consumer product marketing, said in an interview that Sprint will continue to offer innovative new devices -- "certainly a lot more with Android."

Van Norman said Sprint's marketing will continue on a "steady" path, including a push on its "value" message by keeping with its $79-a-month unlimited-data high-end smartphone service plans. The Sprint marketing themes of value, innovation and customer service "are starting to take hold," Van Norman said.

Hesse seemed to hedge on unlimited-data service plans, however, in his panel remarks on Tuesday. When Jim Cramer of CBNC asked Hesse whether Sprint plans to keep its unlimited-data plans, Hesse said, "Maybe, and maybe not," without elaborating.

 

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