Sprint mum on whether it will kill contracts this year

Sprint (NYSE: S) CEO Marcelo Claure said earlier this year that the carrier planned to drop two-year contracts by the end of the year, moving entirely to a device-leasing model. But that may no longer be the case.

Claure told The Wall Street Journal in an August interview that Sprint would kill its contract plans, which essentially package the cost of the device with service plans. The company apparently made no official announcement, but the news was picked up by numerous mainstream news outlets as well as the tech media.

But when FierceWireless asked the company this week to confirm that contract plans would be killed next week, a Sprint spokesperson demurred.

"Sprint continues to offer customers choices to obtain their new device in a way that best fits their budget," the spokesperson said via email. Those choices include leasing, the company said, paying through an installment plan, paying full retail, or signing a two-year contract.

No further comment was given.

T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS), became the first major U.S. carrier to kill contract-based services more than two years ago, and its counterparts have largely followed step. Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T) have turned to equipment installment plans (EIPs), and Sprint introduced its leasing plan last year. AT&T and Sprint remain the only two U.S. operators to offer contracts to new customers -- for now, at least -- and AT&T has said it will kill them eventually.

By uncoupling the price of service from the price of the phone, T-Mobile gave consumers more visibility into where their mobile dollars were going. And the tactic proved effective, as evidenced by the carrier's strong growth over the past 18 months.

In an August interview with CNBC, Claure conceded that the contract model was in its last days.

"The $199, that is a thing of the past," Claure said in the interview, referring to the price of a subsidized handset packaged with a contract. "The industry has changed. Consumers used to pay $199 for a phone, but they used to pay a much higher monthly fee. So I think one of the great things about the industry is we have unbundled it."

It's still unclear whether Sprint will complete that unbundling next week.

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