Sprint on the move: Samsung Epic 4G improves competitive standing

Sprint is turning the corner courtesy of its 4G network and new devices and increasingly warrants more of your buying consideration.

Sprint is turning the corner courtesy of its 4G wireless network and increasingly warrants more of your buying consideration.

On Thursday, Sprint unveiled the Samsung Epic 4G, its second Android and WiMax enabled device (statement, Techmeme). Samsung, another company about to ride the Android wave of devices, packed a full Qwerty keyboard and a Super AMOLED touchscreen. The only knock is that the Epic 4G has Android 2.1, but will get 2.2 later via an over-the-air update.

The Epic 4G will run $249.99 with a $100 mail-in rebate.

Also: Samsung Epic 4G bringing competition to HTC EVO August 31st

But here's the big picture: Sprint is landing devices that folks want and has straightforward pricing that compares favorably to rivals. Meanwhile, Sprint has a head start with its 4G network. You can get into an acronym war over WiMax vs. Long-term Evolution (LTE) technology, but as Clearwire, a Sprint partner, noted: people don't care. There's a need for mobile speed and Sprint has a slight head start over Verizon, which is prepping LTE devices in the first half.

Sprint's most recent financial results show how the company is turning the quarter. The wireless carrier added subscribers for the first time in years courtesy of the HTC Evo 4G. Toss a Samsung Epic in the mix and Sprint warrants a look as you shop for phones.

I'm seeing the Sprint impact personally. My situation: I'm a Verizon Wireless customer with a contract ending in December. I can upgrade my phone now, but won't because I know there's likely to be an LTE phone option in the first half. Renewing my two-year contract today means I'm locked out of 4G service until 2012. Simply put, it's foolish to renew today.

And here's where Sprint comes in. With its recent 4G moves and devices, Sprint is getting a hard look. The bill would be cheaper and Sprint/Clearwire covers Philadelphia well. Now if Sprint/Clearwire can get New York and San Francisco covered by December, Sprint is a viable option. I'd rather have WiMax service than 3G for another two years.

If I were in the same contract situation a year ago, Sprint wouldn't have garnered even a passing glance. That's how quickly the tide can turn in the wireless business. Sprint is offering devices, speed and value and that warrants a look for anyone in my contract situation.

As for the competitive dynamics, Sprint isn't likely to dent Verizon Wireless. Many Verizon customers will wait for LTE in the first half of 2011. The most vulnerable carrier, however, may be AT&T. Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T's wireless unit, said Wednesday that the company will be deploying LTE commercially next year---probably in the second half.

In the end, half of the big four wireless carriers will have 4G services ramped in larger markets early in 2011 and Sprint for now is leading the parade. In the Deutsche Bank chart below, Sprint is one of the few carriers increasing its share of post paid gross subscriber additions.

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