Sprint Corp. likely will spend the next five years as the nation’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, according to an industry forecast.
It’s a sobering outlook for the Overland Park-based company that ranked No. 3 in the last official industrywide subscriber count. Updates, based on June 30 totals, won’t be available for a few weeks.
“We have T-Mobile probably pulling ahead of Sprint now, this year,” said Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, director of wireless operator strategies at Strategy Analytics Inc.
Both companies have posted larger subscriber totals lately. No. 4 T-Mobile, with 56.8 million subscribers at the end of March, has pulled close to Sprint’s 57.1 million by growing much faster.
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“But Sprint’s getting there,” Welsh de Grimaldo said in an interview. “They really do need to keep executing and finding out what moves the needle.”
Strategy Analytics forecasts that the needle won’t move much.
“No major shifts are anticipated in market share among the top 4 carriers, as T-Mobile has already surpassed Sprint in terms of total subscribers by mid-2015,” a release about the forecasts said.
The market share projections, plotted on a chart, show that Sprint has a bit less than 15 percent of the wireless subscriber market now. Its share will edge a bit higher but remain below 15 percent five years from now, according to the forecast.
T-Mobile, on the other hand, is on the way to a bit more than 15 percent on the forecast chart. Neither is expected to close in on Verizon, above 30 percent, and AT&T, above 25 percent.
In an emailed statement, Sprint said it is making gains in its network, customer signings and retention.
“Few would have predicted that in just 6 months Sprint would be topping network rankings in Kansas City and across the nation, dramatically lowering churn (the loss of subscribers) and adding more than 2 million customers, but that’s what has happened. So while others will speculate, we are focused on offering the best customer experience, a great network and innovative pricing plans,” the statement said.
Strategy Analytics’ outlook takes into account Sprint’s decision to invest more in its network by adding cellular towers and antennas and to deploy more of the wireless capacity it currently has in cold storage. It also relies on Sprint luring new customers with offers like its All-In deal that provides unlimited talk, texting and data, plus a phone, for $80 a month.
“This is the price of staying in the game,” Welsh de Grimaldo said.
Without the efforts to keep current customers and campaigns to win new ones, Sprint likely would see its share of the market fall. The forecast chart shows Sprint had fallen from a bit more than a 15 percent market share a few years ago.
“It’s not a bad story. It’s certainly better than it was and improving,” Welsh de Grimaldo said of the outlook. “Fourth place is where we see them now.”
Like most forecasts, Strategy Analytics’ projected lines are much less bumpy than the plots showing the companies’ real subscriber shares of the recent past.
Welsh de Grimaldo listed several “wild cards” that could account for future swings in market share not currently built into the firm’s forecast.
T-Mobile’s principal owner, Deutsche Telekom, is looking for a buyer. Satellite television company Dish Network Corp. is investing and talking about getting into the wireless game. Google Inc. has launched a limited wireless service, relying in part on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks.