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On Call: Is Sprint on its way back?

A year ago Sprint was floundering, but recent phone announcements could be a sign the carrier is regaining its strength.

The Hero is a good move for Sprint.

Update: Sprint announced the Palm Pixi the night after this column posted.

Almost a year ago, I wrote about Sprint's lack of identity in the U.S. carrier world. While other major operators had used trendy devices, service, and even marketing slogans to develop distinct personalities, Sprint was wrestling with incompatible networks, a baffling ad campaign featuring CEO Dan Hesse and a relatively mundane product lineup. At the time, I argued that Sprint needed to really distinguish itself from its rivals if it hoped to reverse declining revenue and customer churn.

Twelve months later, Sprint continues to lose money and valuable postpaid customers--not that other carriers are doing that much better--but I believe that Sprint is making a turnaround on the identity front. It dropped that Hesse ad campaign and rolled out a new series of commercials that focus on the Palm Pre and fun factoids about the carrier's network. Admittedly, the surreal Pre ads with the talking head are a little creepy, but you remember them and they do tell you something about the Pre.

Sprint is also making strides on the device front. Last September when AT&T was grabbing headlines with the iPhone 3G and T-Mobile had just announced the world's first Android phone, Sprint was capitalizing on the Samsung Instinct and the HTC Touch Diamond as its flagship products. It's not that they were bad devices, but they didn't have quite the star power of Apple and Google.

Yet, things are changing as Sprint lands devices that move cell phone development forward. In June, Sprint finally got the aforementioned Pre, which offers a number of awesome new features like the Palm WebOS. Sure, we didn't love the Pre completely, but it brought us something new and unique, rather than just repackaging and rehashing every other Sprint handset. Sprint also scooped up the RIM BlackBerry Tour earlier this summer and just last week it announced its first Android device with the HTC Hero. As Taylor Wimberly noted on Android Atlas, the Hero offers a number of improvements over T-Mobile's MyTouch 3G.

So what does all this mean for Sprint? I'd say it's a sign that Sprint is clawing its way back to having a sound identity. The quality of its network and customer service are important for its brand revitalization, but a solid range of phones that includes handsets like the Pre is just as essential. Sprint hasn't completely regained its footing, but these phones are a start.