Next week, the No. 3 wireless shop, which has lost 5.6 million subscribers in the past three years, could end the awful slide and report that it added contract customers for the first time since 2007.
Not only would a reversal of customer losses be transformative for Sprint, it would also add a real comer to a heated two-player market.
Analysts' consensus estimates for net new so-called post-paid or contract customers call for AT&T (T - Get Report) to add 750,000 users, Verizon (VZ - Get Report) to add 600,000 and for Sprint to lose 150,000 subscribers.But the buzz around Wall Street is that Sprint has a winning quarter on its hands thanks to smartphones. Sprint's potential resurgence comes at a time when consumers are being dazzled by a broad new selection of super phones. And the push by Sprint into a WiMax version of 4G network communications arrives as the rest of the industry enters a whole separate LTE version of fourth-generation wireless technology. If the turnaround happens, it will mark the end of what had been a stunning achievement by Sprint -- sliding for so long despite all the huge developments in the sector. Sprint hasn't exactly been operating in a busted industry like autos or banking. The past three years have been historic in wireless. Who hasn't seen the sweep of this so-called mobile Internet tsunami, when seemingly everyone is lining up to turn in their old dumb phones for the chance to fork over $200 in cash and commit to 2-year contracts just to own the hottest new smartphones? The nation's no. 1 and no. 2 wireless shops, Verizon and AT&T, get all the attention. It's the big dual, Verizon and its Google (GOOG - Get Report) Android war against the AT&T/ Apple (AAPL - Get Report) iPhone supremacy. Sprint is an afterthought. If Verizon and AT&T are Coke (COKE) and Pepsi (PEP), Sprint is RC. Sprint earned its status the hard way. Customers have been leaving Sprint at an alarming rate since 2007. In that time, Sprint has lost 10% of its subscribers, going from 53.8 million customers at the end of 2007 to 48.2 million as of June. A big part of the defection came from the botched merger with Nextel. Customers grew weary of the neglected walkie-talkie network and took their business elsewhere.