Sprint doubles down on unlimited with high-end plan with HD video

Photo credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

Sprint doubled down on its unlimited strategy, launching a premium plan for users who want as much high-quality multimedia as possible.

The country’s fourth-largest operator unveiled Unlimited Freedom Premium, which includes unlimited HD streaming videos at up to 1080p+, HD music streaming at up to 1.5 Mbps and gaming streaming at up to 8 Mbps. Sprint charges $80 a month for a single line of the service; two lines cost $140 per month.

The new plan is a high-end alternative to the Unlimited Freedom plan Sprint introduced last week, which costs $60 a month for a single line and $40 more for an additional line. The cheaper plan limits video to 480p; music streaming is capped at 500 Kbps and gaming to 2 Mbps.

Sprint is offering the premium plan at no extra charge through October for users who sign on to the Unlimited Freedom service.

Sprint and T-Mobile both made headlines last week with the unexpected introductions of new unlimited plans. T-Mobile One offers a single line of unlimited voice, text and LTE data for $70 a month for customers with accounts that pay automatically. A second line is an additional $50, and additional lines (up to a total of eight) are $20 each. Users can also add tablets for $20 per device.

The new unlimited plans evidence a resurgence of the unlimited data offerings that were once an underpinning of the U.S. wireless industry. Carriers moved away from unlimited data as LTE networks came online and usage ramped up, but AT&T re-introduced an unlimited data plan in January for customers who also subscribe to DirecTV. Verizon has said repeatedly that it isn’t interested in offering unlimited data, but the nation’s largest carrier may be forced to reconsider its position if consumers find the new plans from T-Mobile and Sprint compelling.

The looming question, of course, is how well the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile will be able to handle the increased traffic sure to result from unlimited plans. That’s particularly true of Sprint’s new premium plan, which will require substantially more bandwidth to meet the demands of users seeking high-quality video and gaming on their phones.

And the premium unlimited offering comes to market as analysts are increasingly questioning Sprint’s ability to invest in its network. The carrier spent only $376 in capex during the second quarter of 2016, down from $1.6 billion during the same period in 2015, and in May it adjusted its capex guidance for the rest of the year to $3 billion, significantly lower than analysts’ estimates in the range of $4.5 billion.

“Results of network tests suggest that Sprint's network is getting better, and Sprint's deep 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings give it undeniable advantages in spectrum aggregation at lower cost,” MoffettNathanson analysts wrote last month. “But this much lower?"

Those concerns are sure to be magnified if Sprint’s premium unlimited plan gains traction with data-hungry users.

For more:
- see this Sprint web page

Related articles:
Unlimited plans from T-Mobile and Sprint are compelling, but analysts say network concerns remain
T-Mobile, Sprint pit new unlimited data plans against one another
Sprint posts 173K postpaid phone net adds, $302M net loss
Sprint’s shrinking spending drags U.S. wireless capex down 10% in Q2