Sprint's Q1: Focus will be on iPhones, postpaid additions, LTE deployment

As questions swirl about whether Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) or Japan's SoftBank will control Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), Sprint heads into its first-quarter earnings report with the focus on more mundane matters: how many postpaid subscribers it gained or lost, how many Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones it activated in the period, and how far along it is in deploying its LTE network.

Sprint has been buffeted in recent weeks by concerns about SoftBank's plan to buy 70 percent of the company for $20.1 billion and then Dish's counter bid of $25.5 billion. A special committee of Sprint's board is considering Dish's offer, which Dish said it is pleased with.

In the meantime, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse is likely to keep the focus on the company's priorities of cash, the customer experience and the Sprint brand. Sprint executives likely will not discuss the status of the deals on the company's earnings conference call.

According to analysts and figures compiled by Yahoo Finance, Sprint is expected to continue posting losses in the first quarter on revenue of $8.71 billion, which would be down slightly from the year-ago period's $8.73 billion.

A major focus will be on how many postpaid subscribers Sprint managed to hang on to in the period. The company is moving toward shutting down it iDEN network by June 30 and has warned that as it does so it will likely continue to shed postpaid iDEN customers, though it has been working to migrate those subscribers to its enhanced CDMA push-to-talk service.

Sprint will also likely be touting the continued success of the iPhone in attracting new customers to its network. Sprint activated more than 6.6 million iPhones in all of 2012, and 40 percent of those were new customers. In the fourth quarter, 38 percent of Sprint's iPhone activations were new customers. That new customer metric will be a key data point for investors and analysts in the first quarter.

Also in focus will be the progress Sprint is making on its Network Vision network modernization project, which includes the iDEN shutdown, and how far along it is in launching LTE service. Sprint first launched LTE in July 2012 and continues to lag larger rivals Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) in coverage. Verizon said last week its LTE network now covers 287 million POPs, by far the largest in the United States, covering more than 95 percent of Verizon's current 3G network footprint.

Sprint said in February it expects to cover 200 million POPs with LTE by the end of 2013. That is significantly lower than Sprint's original goal of having 250 million POPs covered with LTE by the end of the year. That target puts Sprint on the same pace as T-Mobile USA, which also plans to have 200 million POPs covered with LTE by the end of the year.

For more:
- see this Trefis post
- see this Narrative Science post
- see this Motley Fool article
- see this Dish release

Related Articles:
Dish: Our offer for Sprint is better 'for national security' than SoftBank offer
Dish's proposed acquisition of Sprint evokes questions, concerns from industry
Major Sprint investors rally around Dish's bid
Dish, SoftBank poised for bidding war over Sprint
Dish makes $25.5B offer to buy Sprint, countering Softbank
Sprint loses 337,000 net subs, lowers LTE coverage goal to 200M by year-end