Sprint hits 55 million customers ahead of T-Mobile merger

Sprint said it still expects to be the first carrier to launch 5G in 2019, spending the most recent quarter continuing to deploy thousands of small cells, Magic Boxes, and Massive MIMO radios.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Sprint has reported adding 123,000 post-paid customers during the quarter to June 30, for a total of 32 million post-paid customers, as well as adding 3,000 prepaid customers for a total of 9 million.

As of June 30, Sprint had a total wireless customer base of almost 54.6 million, despite losing 69,000 wholesale and affiliate customers during the three-month period of a total of 13 million.

Sprint's net income for the quarter was $176 million, down from $206 million the same quarter a year earlier, with operating income down from $1.2 billion to $815 million. Adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) excluding severance, exit costs, and other special items was $3.3 billion, up from $2.9 billion.

Average revenue per user (ARPU) fell during the quarter, from $44.40 per month last quarter to $43.55 across post-paid, and from $37.15 down to $36.27 for prepaid.

"Sprint continued to deliver solid results this quarter while embarking on our transformative merger with T-Mobile," Sprint CEO Michel Combes said.

"By balancing growth and profitability, we were able to grow wireless service revenue sequentially, continue to add retail phone customers, generate net income for the third consecutive quarter, and improve the network."

According to Sprint, it spent the quarter adding thousands of outdoor small cells, with 15,000 now installed; distributing more than 65,000 of its Magic Boxes for over 260,000 across the nation; and deploying 2.5GHz spectrum on almost two thirds of its macro sites.

Its deployment of Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (Massive MIMO) radios ahead of the launch of 5G is also under way, with Sprint saying it "continues to expect to launch the first mobile 5G network in the US in the first half of 2019".

Sprint additionally said it plans to utilise artificial intelligence across its customer service offerings.

A blog post by Sprint CTO John Saw said the carrier also deployed around 7,000 stand-mount 2.5GHz small cells on its cable infrastructure during Q1.

"Since the quarter ended, our efforts have continued to accelerate, and today we have more than 10,000 strand mount small cells deployed. As a result, we're seeing significantly improved data performance in those places where we're able to reach a high enough density of strand mounts," Saw said.

"Massive MIMO is our award-winning strategy for 5G. This game-changing technology is capable of delivering up to 10 times the capacity of current LTE systems, significantly increasing data speeds for more customers in high-traffic locations. And because Sprint has so much 2.5GHz spectrum, we can use Massive MIMO to deliver 4G LTE and 5G on the same radio simultaneously."

In a report from Ookla last month, Sprint was ranked fastest in five cities across the United States -- Austin, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Lincoln, Nebraska; Norfolk, Virginia; and Reno, Nevada -- as well as tying with T-Mobile for Corpus Christi, Texas, and with AT&T for Louisville, Kentucky.

Sprint has been partnering with Samsung for gigabit-speed LTE, in September last year trialling Massive MIMO.

Conducting a test during MWC with Nokia, Sprint demonstrated the capacity to reach 1Gbps speeds -- or around 270Mbps per end user once split between four devices -- using three-carrier aggregation with Massive MIMO.

Once dual-connectivity mode running simultaneous 5G and LTE services is enabled, however, the network will see speeds upwards of 2.5Gbps, Saw said.

"Nokia is an important part of the ecosystem to make sure we have the infrastructure; we have Qualcomm providing the chipset," he added.

Saw told ZDNet during Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 in February that his carrier has the best 5G spectrum, with Sprint choosing its initial six 5G markets of Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston due to their high traffic and its spectrum holdings.

Sprint in May added New York City, Phoenix, and Kansas City to its 5G rollout roadmap.

Ookla added last month that the T-Mobile merger with Sprint "could result in an unmatched network in the face of 5G".

Read also: T-Mobile, Nokia seal $3.5 billion deal to build out 5G network

T-Mobile had earlier reported adding 1.6 million net customers during the same quarter, including 1 million post-paid additions, ending the period with 75.6 million customers.

ARPU was 46.52 across post-paid phone, with T-Mobile making $782 million in earnings during the quarter to June 30 on revenue of $10.6 billion, up 4 percent year on year.

"Our plan continues to be to bring 5G to 30 cities in 2018 starting with New York, LA, Dallas, Las Vegas with nationwide coverage coming in 2020. This network will utilize 600 megahertz and will harness 4G and 5G bandwidth simultaneously for dual connectivity, and we'll be ready for the first 5G smartphones in 2019," T-Mobile CEO John Legere said.

"While we still have a number of steps remaining in the regulatory approval process, we are optimistic and confident that regulators will recognize the significant pro-competitive benefits of this combination and grant regulatory approval."

T-Mobile said it will cover 325 million people with its 4G LTE network by the end of the year; currently, it covers 323 million.

In December, T-Mobile announced using LTE Licensed Assisted Access (LTE-LAA) technology to achieve speeds of 1.1Gbps on its LTE network with Ericsson in combination with its earlier deployments of 4x4 MIMO and 256 Quadrature Amplitude Moderation (QAM) technology.

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray told ZDNet during MWC that the carrier's 5G deployment across 30 cities this year -- Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, and Dallas are to have the service by 2019 -- is "moving well", with the 600MHz LTE rollout beginning last year and much of the hardware being 5G NR capable.

In making T-Mobile's 5G announcement, Ray had emphasised LTE-Advanced upgrades would form the basis for the network, with T-Mobile planning to build its 5G offering using both 600MHz and mmWave spectrum, as well as deploying 25,000 small cells for LAA-LTE.

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