Careful when you wish for an iPhone.
First came news that Sprint Nextel was getting the wildly popular Apple-made gadget. Yet that seemingly good news for the Overland Park, Kan.-based carrier rattled investors who fretted it might cost too much to subsidize the retail price.
Now Sprint is gaining a perhaps premature reputation for having the slowest iPhone on the wireless block. The company says any difference in the speed at which it or its competitors move data to the iPhone 4S is negligible.
Sprint is taking what it characterized as routine steps to make the phone work better in congested areas. But the company couched that as “typical optimization work.”
Any hiccup could be problematic for the short-of-ideal rolling out of a Sprint iPhone.
“If you’ve got a problem with your most popular device, and you have to spend money to fix that problem,” said telecommunications analyst Rick Franklin of Edward Jones&Co., “it complicates things for a company like Sprint with a balance-sheet problem.”
Sprint hasn’t turned a profit since the third quarter of 2007, though on Wednesday it reported its smallest loss in that time.
In the past week, technology websites CNet, Gizmodo, TheNextWeb and PCMag all commented on the iPhone 4S appearing to perform slower on Sprint’s network than elsewhere. Sprint’s online forums, a better barometer of complaints than of actual performance, include plenty of gripes about slow service.
Before it got the iPhone this month, Sprint had acknowledged that its leading reason for losing smartphone customers came from their exodus to first AT&T and more recently Verizon Wireless to get the iPhone.
For months rumors swirled that Sprint would get an iPhone 5 this fall. It turned out that Apple was finally sharing its market-defining handset with Sprint subscribers. But there would be no iPhone 5 yet, just the 4S model.
The newest version of the iPhone went on sale at Sprint, AT&T and Verizon on Oct. 14. It set opening-day sales and activations records for Sprint.
Analysts quickly formed a consensus that the new iPhone’s uploads and downloads were quickest on AT&T. That carrier’s technology dovetailed best with speed-enhancing improvements to the gadget. AT&T still suffers long-running complaints that its network too often drops connections.
Verizon is widely seen as the network with the broadest coverage areas, but it can’t capitalize on the speedier attributes of the 4S model.
Sprint came with the advantage of generally lower service prices and unlimited data on its network even for new customers — something no other national carrier still offers.
Now, though, there seem to be complaints about the data speeds for the iPhone on Sprint’s 3G, or third-generation, network. (No iPhone yet works on anyone’s 4G wireless broadband system.) Some analysts wonder whether the added data traffic generated by the Apple smartphone might overwhelm Sprint’s network.
Still, judging one carrier against another is iffy business. Consumer experiences can be highly idiosyncratic. Service can vary from block to block, from floor to floor and depending on the time of day, and how many people nearby are using their phones.
PCMag, which has called Sprint’s 3G service more reliable than its competitors, also finds it generally slower. And the day the iPhone launched on Sprint, it reported particularly slow speeds.
“It was like I was waiting in line to get on the Internet,” wrote the website’s Sascha Segan.
Sprint would not field specific questions on the issue. Instead, it issued this statement:
“Overall, iPhone performance on the Sprint network is consistent with our expectations and the rest of our high-end portfolio.
“Sprint also did benchmarking of Sprint’s iPhone against competitors’ iPhones, and the testing showed little to no performance difference. We are seeing a very low return rate for this device, but we are watching the reports of speed issues very closely.
“We do see opportunities to optimize performance, specifically in high network capacity areas. We see this as typical optimization work and do not have any specific area of concern. Sprint is committed to providing the best possible experience for our customers. We are listening to our customers and working closely with our partners at Apple to ensure optimal performance of iPhone devices on our network.”
Source: MCT Information Services