Sprint exec says it's 'immaterial' if T-Mobile passes Sprint in terms of subscribers

Sprint (NYSE: S) continues to argue that even if T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) officially passes it in terms of total subscribers to take the mantle of the No. 3 U.S. carrier it won't have a material impact on Sprint's business or strategy.

Jaime Jones, Sprint's president of postpaid and general business organization, told the Kansas City Star that the ranking is "immaterial" to the plans of Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, who took the helm last August. Jones said customers and employees aren't asking about it.

Sprint is focused on "winning in the long-term and not really worrying or being concerned about whether we're No. 3 or 4 in the short term," Jones said. That echoes comments Claure and CFO Joe Euteneuer have made in recent months.

During the next few weeks the wireless industry will report first-quarter earnings and T-Mobile could pass Sprint then. T-Mobile CEO John Legere has pledged to pass Sprint sometime this year.

Indeed, Legere has said that T-Mobile has already passed Sprint in terms of subscribers if inactive Sprint MVNO customers are taken out of Sprint's subscriber count. In February Legere pointed out that, in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Sprint is counting 1.7 million MVNO customers in its subscriber base that it has not received any payments from in six months. Sprint has used this accounting method for years, and has a policy to not remove a customer from its records until its MVNO partner officially notifies the company. 

As of the end of the fourth quarter of 2014, Sprint said it counted 55.929 million total customers, including the MVNO customers in question, and T-Mobile said it counted 55.018 million customers--officially 911,000 behind Sprint. 

"T-Mobile, on our numbers, is larger," Nomura Securities analyst Adam Ilkowitz told the Star. However, MoffettNathanson Research analyst Craig Moffett told the Star he disagrees and thinks that at current rates T-Mobile will be behind Sprint until around the end of May.

Sprint has been struggling to hold onto postpaid customers as it has worked to expand its LTE network, and in particular its faster 2.5 GHz TD-LTE service. The carrier has essentially just been treading water for the past two years in terms of subscribers, counting around 55 million customers during that time. In contrast, T-Mobile added 8.3 million total customers in 2014 alone.

Sprint is expected to detail plans to expand and enhance its network when it reports first-quarter earnings. The company is also hoping that an improving network will help it draw more customers, along with promotions to reimburse all of the costs for a customer to switch over, including their Early Termination Fees and any remaining payments on equipment installment plans, no matter what customers owe. Sprint is also hoping that its plans to expand into 1,400 RadioShack stores will help its distribution and sales.

For more:
- see this Kansas City Star article

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