Sprint Corp. hopes to turn Apple Inc.’s newest iPhone to its own marketing advantage in the industry’s intensifying battle for wireless subscribers.
In the wake of the unveiling Tuesday of Apple’s iPhone 6, the Overland Park-based wireless carrier announced a new service plan and a new device-leasing deal tied to the updated phone. Both continue Sprint’s price-cutting push since CEO Marcelo Claure took control.
It also made note that the iPhone 6 is the first from Apple that supports Sprint’s faster Sprint Spark service.
Sprint has been losing customers as rivals Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have been growing.
All four carriers see the iPhone 6 launch as a marketable moment and most had or announced tie-ins of one sort or another with Apple’s widely anticipated launch Tuesday.
For customers who trade in an older model iPhone and sign up for two years of wireless service, Verizon began offering a $200 gift card, enough to buy the 16 gigabyte model of the iPhone 6.
T-Mobile US Inc. had said Monday it would beat any trade-in offer from the other big carriers in a promotion that starts Sept. 17. It also is set to announce another new market offering on Wednesday, which it is dubbing Un-carrier 7.0, though what it will involve is unclear.
AT&T had announced two generic iPhone promotions ahead of the iPhone 6 event. One is a $100 credit toward buying any iPhone for customers who activate a new line. The other is a discount on an iPad for customers who buy two years of service for the tablet and get any iPhone under its Next program.
Sprint had matched T-Mobile’s “beat-any-trade-in” deal Monday and added the two iPhone 6 specific deals Tuesday.
The first is a $50 a month plan that provides unlimited data for iPhone 6 customers. It’s cheaper than Sprint’s recently announced $60 unlimited data deal available for any model phone.
“You sign up for that (iPhone 6) plan, you’ve got it,” chief marketing officer Jeff Hallock said.
Sprint is calling its other deal the “iPhone for Life Plan” because it essentially is an offer to lease the newest iPhone to subscribers for $20 a month. At the end of two years, the customer would be able trade up to the newest iPhone, and keep paying the $20 a month.
Alternatively, the customer could choose to buy the iPhone he has for its residual unpaid value.
Hallock said customers pay $30 a month for the iPhone 6 base model under Sprint’s Easy Pay installment plan. The difference is that the customer owns the phone after 24 months under Easy Pay.
Analyst Bill Ho said the launch is a marketing opportunity for Sprint and T-Mobile particularly, and he expects to see both carriers with a heavy push for customers.
“They should be hitting it,” said Ho of 556 Ventures LLC.
Sprint also stands to benefit from the technology inside the iPhone 6.
Customers with iPhones have been unable to tap into the wireless frequencies and technology that Sprint’s faster Sprint Spark services uses to generate faster data speeds. Sprint is relying on Spark to get out of last place in national network speed tests.
Spark already is available on phones that use the Android operating system, but iPhone customers have been locked out.
The iPhone 6 takes down that technology roadblock to Sprint’s network path, said Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche in a note to clients.
“Given that the iPhone represents the majority of its smartphone sell-through, this is a meaningful ‘needle mover,’” Fritzsche said.
Sprint Spark is not yet available in all markets, but Fritzsche said the new Apple device will allow Sprint iPhone users to realize the benefits as Spark coverage expands and speeds increase.