Sprint remains on track to launch a mobile 5G service in nine markets this year while it waits to see whether the government will approve its merger with T-Mobile—which it still sees as the only way to gain the scale it needs to compete with the bigger carriers.
Sprint’s net loss in the fiscal third quarter was $141 million compared to net income of $7.2 billion in the year-ago period, as the fiscal year 2017 third-quarter results included a $7.1 billion non-cash benefit from tax reform.
Sprint lost a net 26,000 phone subscribers during the third quarter that ended Dec. 31, which was fewer than the 32,000 subscriber losses that some analysts had expected, ending the year with more than 54 million total customers.
Overall, analysts at Wells Fargo said the third-quarter results for Sprint were “better than feared.”
While there were many moving parts, “we believe S held its own in a tough wireless competitive environment,” they wrote. “Financials beat across the board, driven largely by the company's continued focus on cost controls. S continues to surgically build out its network, with 2.5 GHz reportedly deployed on 75% of its macro sites and +27K outdoor small cells on air (via mini macros and strand mounts).”
Sprint isn’t saying how it will introduce 5G, but 5G is a way for Sprint to change the network perception, which has been one of its weaknesses in the past, according to CEO Michel Combes.
Importantly, Combes said the temporary government shutdown did not have a major impact on the timing of the proposed merger with T-Mobile. The FCC clock resumed on Jan. 29, and “we look forward to picking up where we left off” before the shutdown, he said during Thursday’s quarterly conference call.
Network-wise, Chief Technology Officer John Saw confirmed that Sprint is now about 75% through the process of upgrading its macro sites to 2.5 GHz and it expects to be substantially done with that in the spring time frame. A year ago, it had only 50% of its sites upgraded with 2.5 GHz.
Sprint also now has about 27,000 small cells, whereas a year ago it had only 3,000, Saw said. LTE-Advanced is now in 270 cities, and those upgrades also will be completed around the spring time frame.
“Our network is never done,” he said, noting that it is focused on making its gear software-upgradable to 5G.
Sprint is “very encouraged” with the results it has seen with Massive MIMO, which it is rolling out to thousands of sites. It’s a bridge from LTE to 5G and can support both LTE and 5G with the same radios. Saw also said he believes it’s a technology that will be helpful for the new company if the merger is approved.