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Sprint posts $863 million loss, stays upbeat on subscribers

To put that into perspective, Sprint lost $439 million during the same period a year ago. It activated 1.5 million iPhones during the quarter just ended.

Sprint Nextel started off 2012 on a sour note, the company revealed today in its first-quarter earnings release.

During the first three months of 2012, Sprint lost $863 million, or a loss of 29 cents per share. During the same period in 2011, the company posted a net loss of $439 million. Sprint generated $7.2 billion in revenue during the quarter, which was actually up 7 percent year-over-year.

Sprint said today that its loss was due primarily to the accelerated depreciation related to the planned shutdown of Nextel. Discounting those charges, the company said, its operating loss was $255 million.

Despite its loss, Sprint sounded relatively positive about its first quarter, saying that the company's average revenue per user (ARPU) on the postpaid side jumped $4.03, or 6.9 percent, making it the "largest year-over-year increase on record for the U.S. wireless industry." And with nearly 1.1 million net subscriber additions during the period, Sprint's total customer base grew to 56 million.

As one might expect, Apple's iPhone proved quite popular on Sprint's service, with 1.5 million of those devices activated during the first quarter. According to Sprint, 44 percent of those activations went to new customers.

Still, Sprint is the smallest iPhone seller among major carriers. AT&T yesterday revealed that it activated 4.3 million iPhones during the first quarter, and Verizon came in more than 1 million units behind AT&T. Interestingly, AT&T said yesterday that it sold a total of 5.5 million smartphones during the first quarter, indicating that Apple's device took the lion's share of sales. Sprint didn't say how many smartphones it sold during the first quarter.

Looking ahead, Sprint will focus much of its efforts on its Network Vision initiative, a plan to overhaul its current wireless infrastructure and replace it with equipment that can run multiple wireless technologies, including 3G CDMA and 4G LTE. Sprint says that it currently has 600 Network Vision sites on air right now, and expects to have 12,000 up and running by the end of the year. In addition, it plans to launch its 4G LTE service to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Atlanta, Kansas City, and Baltimore by the middle of this year.