Sprint's 'free unlimited' promo highlights growing importance of BYOD users

Sprint has enjoyed viral traction with its under-the-radar digital efforts in support of its latest offering.

Carriers are increasingly wooing users to activate their own devices on their networks, according to a new report from Wave7 Research. And no campaign illustrates that as vividly—or, perhaps, as successfully—as Sprint’s offer of a free year of unlimited data.

Sprint last week launched a limited-time promotion offering a year of unlimited talk, text and data to users who switch from Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile. The deal is available through June 30 for up to five lines for users who bring their own handsets and SIM cards, and Sprint isn’t charging an activation fee.

And while Sprint’s deal drew plenty of headlines—which was surely a key objective—several other service providers are targeting the BYOD market as well.

“Sprint’s ‘free year’ offer, T-Mobile’s #GetOutoftheRed offer, Verizon’s recent BYOD offer and the Boost ‘U Pay 1 We Pay 1’ offer all point to a trend of BYOD offers,” Wave 7 reported in a note to subscribers. “Wave7 Research anticipates an uptick in churn for iPhone users, as these offers predominantly focus on iPhones.”

Like its rivals, Sprint hopes to grow its customer base in a cutthroat market without spending vast sums through traditional marketing channels—even if that means subsidizing services. Sprint executives said the carrier isn’t planning to market the promotion campaign aggressively, opting instead for a low-budget digital offering available only through its website.

“People are keeping their devices longer; this is really for us really a test for us—a toe in the water,” said Allan Samson, Sprint’s senior vice president of acquisition marketing, in an interview with FierceWireless last week. “Is there a way for us to reach these customers below the line, with a very low acquisition cost?”

It’s too early to determine just how successful Sprint’s promotion is, but it appears to have gained at least some viral traction. Wave7 reported that a video featuring YouTube celebrity Inanna Sarkis promoting the offer garnered 539,000 views in its first day, and another YouTube video featuring spokesman Paul Marcarelli generated 168,000 views.

The looming question, as Wave7 noted, is whether carriers might strengthen their policies regarding locked handsets in response to campaigns targeting BYOD users. That could help reduce churn, of course, but as handset replacement cycles continue to lengthen it also risks a backlash from customers looking to switch carriers to take advantage of the competitive marketplace.