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iPhone May Bring Sprint 'To Its Knees'

Moffett's report adds to a whirlwind couple of months for Overland, Kansas-based Sprint.

In October Sprint announced a $15.5 billion four year deal to carry Apple's (AAPL - Get Report) iPhone and keep pace with its larger competitors who already had subscribed millions of users. That deal, a commitment to improving smartphone services through a program called "Network Vision" and a multi-billion dollar 4G build with Clearwire are Sprint's 2012 focus, after it walked away from a $7.3 billion acquisition of MetroPCS (PCS) in February.

Sprint upped its investment in Clearwire to $1.6 billion in December and issued nearly $2 billion in a February debt offering, in a move that the company said could help fund an increasing stake in the budding wireless network. That investment is expected to increase after Sprint walked away from a troubled 4G partnership with LightSquared, a company with designs to convert airwaves used by satellites into a network to handle mobile phone calls. In February, the FCC said that the network would interfere with the Global Positioning System used by airlines, the military and others.

LightSquared was to pay $9 billion and give an additional $4.5 billion in credits to Sprint to build out the network in the partnership, which was ended on Mar. 16.

Even without failed acquisitions and the financial struggles of its network partners, Sprint has been struggling with its strategy to compete with national carriers by carrying the iPhone.

In fourth quarter earnings, Sprint reported its largest quarterly loss in three years as iPhone-driven subscriber growth cut at margins. With the iPhone, Sprint added subscribers, ending a run of three consecutive quarters of customer losses. But Sprint posted a $1.3 billion loss. Sprint also reported bringing on 720,000 iPhone subscribers in the quarter, short of initial projections of roughly 1 million.

Sprint's revenue is expected grow over 4% to $35.1 billion in 2012 as its annual loss narrows from nearly $3 billion to $934 million, according to consensus estimates of analysts polled by Bloomberg. That loss is expected grow back to near $3 billion in 2013, even as sales continue to grow. Meanwhile, Clearwire is expected to lose roughly $500 million in 2012 and 2013, according to analyst estimates.

For more on Sprint and wireless carrier shares, see why the iPhone is causing telecom hangups.

For more on the wireless industry, see why AT&T is still hungry for more spectrum and how a tower deal twists industry consolidation.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York
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