On April 22 Sprint took the first steps towards actually competing on network performance, rather than just price with AT&T and Verizon. The LG Viper and the Galaxy Nexus, the first LTE capable handsets for Sprint, have launched. Now there's no LTE network for them to connect to just yet as Sprint hasn't turned the service on in their launch markets yet. But this launch of devices, followed up with the launch of the HTC EVO 4G LTE in another month or so (hopefully with LTE service to back it up) shows the carrier is ready to play ball with the big boys.
My big concern at this moment is that Sprint is too late to the game and holding onto too much debt to make the run they need to. Sprint's merger with Nextel didn't go very well and while the number three carrier has made some improvements and taken some gambles to try and win back customers (like WiMAX), I'm concerned with their ability to keep things going long term.
Sprint made what I consider to be a deal with the devil in Apple. Something like $15.5 billion promised to Apple for iPhone purchases. Now, I don't hate Apple, and Sprint needs to play the iPhone game if they want to compete, $15.5 Billion is a lot of money, a lot of money that I'm not sure Sprint has, or can afford to eat if things go south or if say Apple's next iPhone doesn't support Sprint's LTE frequencies out of the box. It doesn't make sense for Apple to support LTE out of the box for a carrier they just added support for when they will probably have to build a different phone just for them. But who knows, maybe that's why the price tag for Sprint was $15.5 billion, to cover the cost of building a phone to support an LTE network that's not yet in place.
Sprint needs a hit to turn things around and really bring in customers. The problem is, this is not a problem that can be solved with the next iPhone launch, or the new EVO. While I think both of those devices will pave the way for Sprint's future, that's only half the battle. Sure Sprint can claim unlimited data, but right now that's only as good as the network that backs it up, which as a Sprint customer, I can tell you isn't very good. Even in an area where I supposedly get the best 3G coverage according to Sprint's maps, I'm using their Airrave microtower solution hooked up to my cable internet just to be able to make a call in my home. This is why Sprint's Network Vision initiative is so critical. I worry about their ability to roll these changes out nationwide in a timely manner. If Sprint is able to bring consumers over from MaBell or Verizon with their unlimited 4G LTE, they need to make sure the service backs it up so the customers don't leave right away to head back to a provider that can actually meet their needs.
I'm hoping to be able to get my hands on some of Sprint's latest hardware to see if Sprint's LTE hardware offerings can hold up to what AT&T and Verizon are offering, but being stuck in a contract with the increasingly frustrating Samsung Galaxy S2 Epic Touch 4G means I'm not likely to be touching any new Sprint hardware for a while. Hopefully when it's time for me to pick up a new phone in the summer of 2013, Sprint will still be worth sticking with and their comeback will be in full swing, otherwise I'll have to start looking elsewhere.