Sprint CEO: 1 million LTE phones sold; "We're catching up"

Summary:As Sprint continues to push into the LTE market as it flicks 4G paint at the U.S. map on the wall, the firm's CEO acknowledges the network is behind others, but is "catching up."

Sprint has told one million smartphone that support LTE, according to the firm's chief executive. 

The fourth largest mobile network in the U.S. said that around 90 percent of the LTE devices sold were Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC Evo, said Sprint Nextel chief executive Dan Hesse said at the Goldman Sachs conference yesterday.

The figure did not include Apple's new iPhone, which boasts LTE capabilities.

But LTE device sales remain low in comparison to rival networks -- AT&T and Verizon, in particular -- as a result of Sprint's poor LTE network coverage. Sprint was selling LTE-capable devices before it had even switched on the next-generation network.

Hesse noted there is, "a competitive disadvantage in terms of LTE footprint today." He also admitted: "We're catching up, but we are behind."

Who was he talking about? Verizon, of course, which has a near-blanket coverage across the U.S., whereas Sprint only has a spattering. Verizon's coverage remains ahead of most others, while AT&T's coverage expands at a rapid rate, which only this week flipped the switch on Portland, OR and Seattle, WA this week ahead of the iPhone 5's launch.

In answering how Sprint competes with other networks in LTE coverage in light of the iPhone 5 launch, Hesse said:

"...the Galaxy 3 and the Evo So customers are buying LTE devices even though we're just beginning to roll out LTE because they're interested in unlimited and they're signing two-year contracts and they believe LTE is coming. So I'd rather, over that two-year period, get a good deal, get a good service plan, get a good rate plan, beyond unlimited, and LTE will come. That being said, on a temporary basis, there is an advantage that Verizon in particular will have, when it has an advantage in LTE footprint because that's temporary."

In a nutshell: Verizon may be better for LTE now, Sprint may suggest, and AT&T will likely never say but will surely be thinking it, but Sprint is hotfooting its way into the next-generation networking space. And because Sprint's LTE network remains in its infancy, the firm is offering more for its customers than just the super-high speeds that LTE allows. 

LTE is expected to generate $10--11 billion in savings over a seven year period ending 2017 as the network continues to expand its LTE offering nationwide towards the end of 2013.

Topics: 4G, Mobility, Networking

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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