Editorial: Sprint is silently screwing its customers
Just like Android, the wireless market has continued to grow. As it has evolved, the mobile space has become increasingly competitive, and has forced many OEM’s and wireless carriers to make some tough decisions. Both Verizon and AT&T have since abandoned unlimited data in favor of tiered options. T-Mobile, although still offers unlimited options, throttles customers who go beyond 2GB’s a month. All of these Sprint has, and continues to use as leverage for reasoning consumers should choose the nations third largest carrier. What Sprint will not tell you however, and has subtly told it’s own customers, are the changes the company has made for the worse. Changes that, in my opinion, have turned Sprint, once lauded as the most cost-effective and consumer friendly carrier in America into a smaller evil not unlike Verizon and AT&T. I have much more to say, so join me after the break for much more.
Sprint is often thought of as the little guy in the carrier wars. Indeed, Sprint is the smallest of the “Big Three”, and has often struggled to maintain it’s customer base. Ever since Dan Hesse took over the reigns as Sprint CEO, the company went on a massive advertising campaign attacking Verizon and AT&T on various fronts. It began with the attacks on both companies pricing plans, which were, and still are (though not nearly as bad) traditionally more expensive. As Big Red and AT&T evolved, Sprint evolved it’s tactics and began attacking the two companies for removing services such as unlimited data. To Sprint’s credit, they had a very good argument and had excellent all-in-one packages for a bargain.
Unfortunately, Sprint has begun to stray away from it’s consumer friendly attitude in favor of a much more conservative approach. Granted, Sprint has to begin facing reality that it needs to find new (or better) ways to turn over billions of dollars in profits so it can compete reasonably with it’s much larger competitors. But I find the ways it’s doing so to be offensive, sneaky and hypocritical.
It began when Sprint began rolling out it’s 4G WiMax network. Sprint was realistically the first of the carriers to introduce “true” 4G (I never have considered HSPA+ to be 4G). The company spent billions of dollars on a deal with Clearwire, which would eventually turn out to be financially disastrous. That is a situation worth an editorial of it’s own, but with it’s 4G rollout, Sprint began charging customers with 4G phones such as the HTC Evo 4G a $10 premium on top of their data plans for 4G service. That’s all fine and dandy, and I have no problem paying a premium for premium service. Unfortunately, Sprint not only denied this as a “4G charge”, but they eventually began charging everyone with a Smartphone on the company’s network this $10 premium. Sprint called this a “Smartphone” fee and said it was necessary. They based this off of the fact that smartphone owners “on average, use 10 times the data of feature phone users”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that the point of paying $30 a month for a data plan? If you’re going to charge more for smartphone data usage, fine, but be professional about it. Don’t roll it out along with your 4G network, refute it as a 4G charge, and then turn around and begin charging everyone a premium. These people paid extensive amounts of money for their smartphones, pay higher monthly bills, and are sucked into 2-year contracts with insanely high ETF’s. Greed.
Next came the announcement that Sprint would be eliminating it’s 30-day return policy in favor of — you guessed it — a much more Verizon and AT&T-like 14-day policy. This was once again a feature that Sprint spent millions of dollars advertising on television, with CEO Dan Hesse. We’re not talking about a feature that was a decade old. I understand that times change, but this was a policy that just six months prior, the company was still airing television spots for. Millions of dollars down the drain for a feature that would ultimately be reduced — by more than half — to existing and new customers.
Finally, just last week Sprint announced, very silently via a “Season of Change” memo that it would be nixing it’s bill to account and 1-year contract features. These are relatively minor changes, but changes that I find the most unnecessary when compared to the others the company has made over the last 12 or so months. This once again puts Sprint more in line with Verizon and AT&T policies. When Verizon and AT&T began announcing plans to phase out unlimited data plans, Sprint swore up and down that it was sticking with unlimited data. It has continued to do so, but lately has been different. Sprint has been, very quietly, hinting at the idea that it’s not feasible for unlimited data to stick around for the long-term. It has used phrases like “It’s a challenge for our engineers to keep the infrastructure costs down”.
Are you seeing a trend here? While Verizon and AT&T have taken some steps to offer more Sprint-like attractive pricing options, Sprint has done the opposite. It has taken what used to separate them from the big boys and thrown them down the garbage. And now, with all of this going on, Sprint is not only fighting fiercely to prevent an AT&T/T-Mobile merger which would further push Sprint down the totem pole, it is more than likely the company will be eventually phasing out it’s WiMax network in favor of LTE. Billions more dollars down the drain.
A combination of costly (literally) mistakes and horrible hypocritical decisions have put Sprint on a path that I feel there isn’t much return from. While Verizon pours billions of dollars into it’s LTE network, and AT&T continues to make billions, Sprint has left itself in the corner. Unfortunately, this is a situation I feel Sprint could have avoided. Sprint had the opportunity right at their grasp to take control of the market by doing something the other carriers don’t – listen to your customers. By being different, by actually being a carrier, not a corporation. It is a situation that I feel customers will catch onto, and it won’t take them long. It is a situation where I feel Sprint is on the path which has two potential outcomes: bankruptcy or acquisition.
I could be wrong, and for the sake of competition I hope I am. Unfortunately, I just don’t see Sprint making the turnaround it needs to be taken seriously and to be competitive in today’s market. Sadly, most of that will end up falling on Sprint’s own shoulders.