There’s no shortage of media coverage of Sprint’s earnings report from earlier this morning, with the highlight being a sort-of unexpected return to positive net subscriber adds. All in all, it was a pretty good quarter for Sprint, and here we’re going to focus on the comments made about Sprint’s 4G performance, via the WiMAX network services it resells from partner Clearwire.
Though Sprint didn’t break out any exact numbers, its introduction of the first WiMAX smartphone, the HTC EVO 4G, was a big win, with many markets sold out of the device and plenty of positive reviews for the Android-based offering. According to Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, the EVO 4G “exceeded our expectations” on several levels, including not just sales and reviews but in what he called “record” low return numbers for the device.
Hesse also said that HTC EVO 4G users exceed in another category — smartphone data usage. In response to a question later in the call, Hesse said that HTC EVO 4G users consumed “three and a half times more data than our other smartphone customers,” a statistic that reflects Clearwire’s and other operators’ observations that users with more bandwidth tend to use more data.
While some reports have pegged Sprint’s EVO sales at around 300,000, we may get a clearer number when Clearwire reports its numbers next week (since Clearwire will report the exact number of wholesale 4G subscriber gains, of which the EVO customers will be a big part). “We wish we could get more [phones],” Hesse said on the conference call. HTC, Hesse said, is working on the problem presumably as fast as it can. (The call even featured one analyst/fanboy who couldn’t resist telling Hesse that he had just purchased his own EVO 4G, just before complaining about the battery life.)
On pricing, Hesse said in response to a question that the $10 premium fee Sprint was charging for 3G/4G devices like the EVO didn’t seem to slow down any purchase plans. “We could sell a lot more if we had them,” Hesse said. Of the $10 charge, he added, “Customers see the value. I don’t think it’s an impediment.”
While Hesse didn’t supply any information about what Sprint and Clearwire might do with their network beyond the year’s end — he pretty much dodged several questions about Sprint/Clearwire financing and ownership relations — he did say that 4G was a big priority for the remainder of 2010, a year when Sprint, Clearwire and the WiMAX partners will still have the 4G field mainly to themselves. Next on the table for Sprint is the availability and pricing announcement for the already announced second WiMAX smartphone, the Samsung Epic 4G, as well as expected market launches in the “mega markets” of Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. “Regarding the second half of 2010, 4G will be an increasingly important element of our performance,” Hesse said.