Cellular carrier Sprint was late to the party in terms of picking up Apple’s iPhone, but the No. 3 carrier in the U.S. had an ace up its sleeve when it started carrying the iPhone 4S last year: unlimited data plans.
Both AT&T and Verizon had discontinued unlimited data plans for smartphone customers, and only users who had previously purchased the plans were allowed to keep them on the networks of the two largest carriers in the country. It seemed that Sprint had something to offer than none of its competitors did with its unlimited data offerings; but as GigaOM reports, Sprint’s offerings don’t seem to be holding as much sway as those of its larger competitors.
Sprint revealed in a recently-released quarterly earnings report for Q1 2012 that it sold some 1.5 million iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S handsets during that period. That sounds pretty high until you consider the fact that AT&T activated more than 4 million iPhones and Verizon activated 3.2 million of the devices.
On the plus side for Sprint, though, is the fact that that while its iPhone numbers are below those of the other U.S. carriers, a big portion of those iPhone buyers are new customers to Sprint. The company said that 44 percent of iPhone purchases were made by new Sprint customers, which means about 340,000 new customers jumped aboard Sprint’s network thanks to Apple’s smartphone. Sprint was a good get for Apple, too – the carrier’s iPhone activations made up about 4 percent of the company’s 35.1 million global iPhone activations during the quarter.
And Sprint is about half the size of Verizon, with around 56 million subscribers, so selling 1.5 million iPhones in a single quarter isn’t a bad thing for the carrier. But it does seem to suggest that Sprint isn’t pulling in an inordinate amount of iPhone customers, and it probably isn’t poaching a huge number from AT&T or Verizon, either. That suggests that Sprint’s unlimited data plan ace isn’t as big a winner as it seemed it could be back when the iPhone 4S on Sprint was announced last year.
The iPhone definitely seems to be a win for Sprint, but if the company was hoping to pair it with unlimited data to create a silver bullet, it seems that Apple’s popular device hasn’t turned out that way for the No. 3 carrier. Sprint ought to be looking for another alternative – something it can offer that the other carriers can’t or won’t – that can do what unlimited data was supposed to.