Sprint, last among networks, pushes a new device and an app offer

08/19/2014 4:22 PM

08/19/2014 9:30 PM

Sprint Corp. — having killed its Framily plans for a new data-rich deal Monday — announced an exclusive phone deal and app subscription offer on Tuesday.

The Overland Park-based company also got an unwelcome reminder that it operates a last-place network. A report from network tester RootMetrics provided ammunition for Sprint’s rivals to counter its new Sprint Family Share Pack service plans.

Sprint said it had exclusive rights to offer the Aquos Crystal, a phone from Sharp that pushes its display screen to the edges of the device.

The Aquos Crystal’s other noteworthy feature is that Sprint’s Tokyo-based parent company, SoftBank Corp., is launching the phone in Japan. The joint debut offers a demonstration of the companies’ coordinated purchasing power made possible after SoftBank bought control of Sprint last year.

Tuesday’s other new offering from Sprint was the App Pass. It’s a subscription service that provides access to a catalog of mobile apps and games. The price is $4.99 a month, but customers also get a $5 credit each month that is good for in-app purchases.

Each effort is aimed at getting consumers to switch to Sprint.

“This season is going to be a succession of offers and deals and testing and trying to move the needle,” said Berge Ayvazian, an industry consultant at UBM Tech. “Obviously you have to focus on these types of things when you don’t have the best network in terms of performance, reliability and speed.”

And that was the news from the RootMetrics report on the four national carriers’ networks for the first half of 2014.

Sprint, it said, ranked fourth and specifically scored as slower and less reliable for data than T-Mobile. Sprint topped T-Mobile in overall reliability, which includes calls and texts.

Both companies trailed Verizon and AT&T, which RootMetrics said were close in many measures, with Verizon typically edging out the nation’s second biggest carrier by subscribers.

In an emailed statement, a Sprint spokeswoman said the company showed better results in state-by-state comparisons and in voice and text tests by RootMetrics.

“We are competitive, and in many cases winning, in metrics like reliability, call quality and text performance. We expect to see similar results in data speeds as we continue to roll out Sprint Spark,” the email said.

Sprint Spark provides faster data speeds in some markets but will be more widely available in 2015. Spark, however, had not lifted Sprint’s RootMetrics rankings in markets where it is starting to show up, which include Chicago and Kansas City, where Sprint still landed last.

T-Mobile chief executive John Legere jumped on the network issue with a Twitter post that shows where he plans to focus consumers’ attention.

It said Sprint’s network can’t compete with T-Mobile’s LTE network. It included what looks like a coming advertisement from T-Mobile that said of Sprint, “Their prices are changing, but their network? Not so much.”

Legere asked his Twitter followers whether T-Mobile should run the ad. Anthony Whitehead replied with a comment about T-Mobile’s own network, saying: “That’s weird. Where I live T-Mobile is still 2g. No LTE what so ever.”

The RootMetrics report offers a bit of a blow to Sprint’s new pricing plans that promise double the data at the same or lower prices shoppers will find at Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile.

Data is what wireless subscribers consume when they download apps, stream music, visit online sites or use many of the popular features of their smartphones and tablets. It has become the industry’s battleground as calls and texts are generally unlimited for full service subscribers.

“Nationally they probably have it right,” Bill Ho, an analyst at 566 Ventures LLC, said of RootMetrics’ test results and the potential damage to Sprint. “If everybody is focusing on speed in their marketing and beating them on that, they don’t have a leg to stand on until 2015.”

Sprint’s new chief executive officer, Marcelo Claure, announced the Sprint Family Share Pack during an employee rally at the company’s campus Monday. He also delivered a public message to his salespeople that they can’t use Sprint’s network as an “excuse” anymore.

The company had said its extensive network upgrade caused service disruptions that led customers to leave Sprint or choose to sign up with other companies. That work was completed and has cleared the way for an expansion of Sprint Spark.

To reach Mark Davis, call 816-234-4372 or send email to mdavis@kcstar.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at mdkcstar.

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