Sprint’s Missed 4G Opportunity

Call it a missed opportunity. Sprint had hoped that the early rollout of 4G would elevate the perception and reputation of its network and win new subscribers. However it has been slow to roll out the service to major markets. The first 4G phone — the HTC/Android EVO — has been popular though not because of 4G in particular. It’s now temporarily unavailable. Reports indicate that the handset has sold roughly 250K – 300K units. I was fortunate to obtain an EVO at the Google developer event earlier this year, which has become my personal handset. I live in the SF Bay Area and 4G has just started to appear in pockets here (South Bay/Peninsula, Walnut Creek). I’ve only used 4G extensively in Seattle. Here are the problems, in my view, with the EVO and Sprint 4G:
  • Problem 1: It sucks the life out of your battery (a hardware issue) and speeds really aren’t noticeably faster (in my anecdotal observation).
  • Problem 2: EVO users must pay a $10 “premium data” charge (there’s also a $30 additional charge to use the phone’s hotspot capability)
Accordingly, there are several disincentives to use 4G tied to performance of the handset and cost. The additional data charge, the battery issues and the limited speed boost that 4G offers will not translate into meaningful subscriber additions. Sprint might pick up some people from T-Mobile, which will have to do M&A in the near term to remain competitive. And the company may gain some AT&T non-iPhone users but it’s unlikely to win iPhone converts (other than uber-geeks) or steal subscribers from Verizon, which is slated to roll out LTE later this year. I think that Sprint has largely misplayed its 4G opportunity and the window to make gains is closing vs. rivals.