Will Sprint's HTC Evo 4G turn around its fortunes?

Sprint is seeing shortages for its HTC Evo, the first 3G/4G capable phone, as launch day sales were strong. Will the Evo bring subscribers back?

Sprint said that it is seeing shortages for its HTC Evo, the first 3G/4G capable phone, and that launch day sales were "three times the number of Samsung Instinct and Palm Pre devices sold over their first three days on the market combined."

Now Sprint didn't divulge specific figures (statement, Techmeme), but analysts were heartened by the initial demand. Sprint's retail sales---RadioShack, Best Buy and Wal-Mart---all reported strong demand.

To be sure, there's a lot of interest in a 4G capable phone and the Evo in one day is Sprint's best selling phone. However, there are two big questions:

  • How long will Sprint's day in the 4G sun last with a new Apple iPhone around the corner?
  • And can the HTC Evo 4G allow Sprint to actually add subscribers?

The jury is out on both counts. Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche sums u

p the 15 minutes of fame part.

While it seems as if Sprint has seen the momentum it had hoped for thus far with the Evo launch, we note the press and media attention is likely to shift to the Apple / AT&T side of the house today as the Apple Worldwide Development Conference gets underway.

The second question about subscriber additions is critical. Sprint is working to alleviate Evo 4G shortages, but the long tail of demand for the device is key. Why? It's not the device as much as it is the 4G network. Sprint has a lead in 4G and is hoping to capitalize on first mover advantage with partner Clearwire.

Also: Matthew Miller's review and hands on gallery.

Chandan Sarkar, an analyst at Auriga, said:

Sprint’s recent 4G launch will be highlighted by the introduction of the industry’s first U.S. 4G handset, the Evo. We think this has the potential to draw in high end business customers. More importantly, it has the potential to fix the company’s poor image with high-end, post-paid consumers. Although Sprint has fixed most of the customer service issues that have plagued it in the past, fixing its reputation seems to be taking much longer. This discontinuity in the market may afford the company an opportunity to put its poor image behind it.

The real return on investment will come when Sprint reports its subscriber gains over the next two quarters. The chore: Reverse subscriber losses and land high-end customers. Sprint has made a lot of progress, but needs to show net additions. In other words, the HTC Evo can't merely be a great phone. It has to be a phone that will make you switch carriers.

Sprint has an opportunity to win customers over in the long run with the Evo and 4G service. Now Sprint just has to deliver the subscribers consistently.

HTC Evo coverage:

Sprint business coverage:

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