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Customers avoid Sprint as suitors circle

FILE - In this Thursday July 19 2012 file phoUPS truck stops front Sprint store Derby Street Shoppes Hingham Mass.

FILE - In this Thursday, July 19, 2012 file photo, a UPS truck stops in front of a Sprint store at the Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham, Mass. Sprint Nextel Corp. reports quarterly financial results before the market opens on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

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NEW YORK — The flow of new customers to Sprint stopped in the latest quarter, the company reported Wednesday as it weighed the offers of two corporate suitors.

Sprint Nextel Corp., the country’s third-largest cellphone carrier, said it added a net of just 12,000 customers to its Sprint brand in the quarter, and it would have lost 252,000 if it wasn’t for Nextel customers moving over now that their network is being shut down.

The number of new Sprint customers was the lowest for any quarter since 2009, and suggests that CEO Dan Hesse’s carefully engineered turnaround of the company is on shaky ground. There are just 1 million Nextel customers left, raising the question of what Sprint’s subscriber trends will look like when they’re gone.

Sprint executives acknowledged that they are losing some customers because the company is behind the other three nationwide carriers when it comes to data download speeds. It’s building a high-speed “LTE” network, but in the meantime, most customers are stuck on a slow “3G” network.

AT&T Inc., the second-largest phone company, posted weak subscriber numbers on Tuesday. Verizon Wireless, the industry titan, saw strong trends, as did underdog T-Mobile USA, possibly because it just started selling the iPhone.

Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint ended March with 55.2 million devices on its network, of which 31.3 million were on contract-based plans, which are the most lucrative.

Sprint, which has posted a net loss in every quarter for the last six years, narrowed its first-quarter net loss to $643 million, or 21 cents per share. A year ago, it lost $863 million, or 29 cents per share. Revenue edged up 0.7 percent to $8.79 billion.

Both figures beat analyst estimates.



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