Sprint CEO: No changes in smartphone pricing expected

It appears as if Sprint's unlimited smartphone data plan remains safe.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read
Enjoy that unlimited data plan. CNET

Sprint Nextel won't be abandoning its unlimited data plan or current pricing structure any time soon.

The company isn't considering any changes to its current offering, CEO Dan Hesse said during a conference call with investors today.

"We always reserve the right to make changes, but we are not anticipating any," Hesse said.

Over the past few years, Sprint has stuck to the unlimited smartphone data plan even as larger rivals such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless moved to plans with limits and family-style data bundles. Hesse considers the unlimited offering to be Sprint's way of standing apart from the pack.

More recently, T-Mobile has encroached on Sprint's turf by offering an unlimited data of its own, including one that doesn't require a contract.

Both carriers lag behind AT&T and Verizon on major financial metrics such as customer growth, revenue, profitability, and earnings, and feel the pressure to offer more to win over customers.

While Sprint offers an unlimited data plan, it's hampered by a slow roll-out of its 4G LTE network and a delay in the progress of its Network Vision plan to upgrade its infrastructure. Hesse conceded that Sprint faced delays in 2012 with its upgrade, and he and his team vowed to catch up to this rivals.

"We're working hard to make up for the delays encountered in 2012," said Steve Elfman, head of network operations for Sprint.

Sprint has 8,000 sites "on air," or running, while it is either preparing for, or in the middle of, upgrading more than 19,500 additional sites, Elfman said.

Sprint's 4G LTE network is in 58 cities with 170 expected to get the faster service in the coming months.

Still, Sprint has gotten knocked for its slower deployment, which has favored smaller cities rather than the larger metropolitan areas such as New York or San Francisco, which CNET reported may not get 4G until March. Hesse admitted Sprint was at a disadvantage when compared with AT&T and Verizon. Even T-Mobile has touted a nationwide 4G network. While it uses a different kind of technology, it's a boast that Sprint can no longer make because it has abandoned the older 4G WiMax network.

Sprint is expected to cover 200 million people with 4G LTE by the end of the year, although Elfman warned that may slip to the beginning of 2014.

Because of the disadvantage, Hesse said he doesn't believe Sprint can raise its prices. He wouldn't consider a price change until the company was in a stronger network position, which he believes will come in the second half.

Sprint, meanwhile, also expects to spur growth through stronger tablet sales. The company recently got the iPad, but hasn't had a chance to properly market the product. Hesse said Sprint hasn't had a chance to create marketing materials that meet with Apple's standards, but that promoting the iPad would be a focus of this year. He noted that tablets represent a good portion of AT&T and Verizon's customer growth, and that Sprint could see similar growth from the area.