Key Sprint investor sees subscriber turnaround next year

Sprint Nextel will finally return to positive subscriber growth next year, according to a key investor.

T. Rowe Price, one of Sprint's 10 largest investors, said the nation's third-largest wireless carrier is about to turn a corner. The company has lost almost 6 million subscribers since Dan Hesse took over as CEO in late 2007. "He inherited a company that was in a crisis," T. Rowe fund manager Dan Martino told Bloomberg. "He's done a good job with the cards he's been dealt." Martino said Sprint's launch of mobile WiMAX services--through its wholesale relationship with Clearwire, in which it holds a majority stake--gives the carrier an edge over its larger competitors. He expects Sprint to begin growing its postpaid subscriber base in the second quarter of next year.

Sprint has said its postpaid and total subscriber losses will improve compared with 2009, but has not said when it expects to return to positive subscriber growth. The company has been focusing on improving customer service, growing gross additions and reducing churn. Sprint also has made its 4G push through Clearwire a strategic goal for this year, and last week at the CTIA Wireless 2010 conference the carrier unveiled its first WiMAX smartphone, the HTC-made Evo, which will go on sale this summer.

"People have been so negative on this brand for so long," Martino said. "Sprint does have an opportunity to put up a few good quarters and repair that image."

The company took another step in that direction yesterday by announcing a new "money-back guarantee" program. If a customer is not satisfied with Sprint's service after the first 30 days, the carrier said it will waive device, activation and early termination fees, will refund all monthly recurring charges and waive all of the associated taxes and surcharges. Customers will still be responsible for charges associated with digital downloads, songs, games, applications, third-party billing, international charges and any associated taxes and Sprint surcharges.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Kansas City Star article

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