Senin, 17 Maret 2008

NEW YORK - Sprint Nextel (S), bleeding wireless customers by the thousands, on Thursday announced a new calling plan that offers unlimited voice and mobile data, including Web surfing, e-mail and texting, for $99.99 a month.

The "Simply Everything" plan, which could save heavy data users $50 a month or more, is Sprints attempt to differentiate itself from AT&T (T) and Verizon Wireless (VZ), says Roger Entner, senior vice president at IAG Research. "This could help Sprint re-establish a leadership position in (mobile) data," he says.

Verizon recently announced an unlimited wireless calling plan - voice calls only - for $99.99 a month. AT&T quickly matched.

By throwing mobile data into the mix, Sprint has upped the ante and created a service "that is very attractive for heavy data users," Entner says.

It also announced unlimited voice calls and messaging - no data - for $89.99.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse on Thursday said the new plan represents a great value for consumers. "It takes all the worries off," he said, referring to the now-familiar drill of monitoring monthly wireless usage to avoid extra charges. Those overruns currently generate billions in profits for cellphone carriers.

"We believe there is a huge opportunity here," Hesse says.

As of Thursday night, neither AT&T nor Verizon had matched Sprints offer. Entner, for one, doesnt think either will counter unless Sprint starts stealing market share. If that happens, he says, "you could see (AT&T and Verizon) start tinkering with data add-ons" to their unlimited voice plans.

No. 1 AT No. 2 Verizon has around 66 million. Sprint is No. 3. It had 53.8 million at the end of 2007, but is losing customers rapidly.

Sprint needs some good news, as its fourth-quarter earnings, released Thursday, made clear. Sprint said it lost 683,000 post-paid (monthly subscription) customers in the fourth quarter and expects to lose another 1.2 million in the first quarter. AT&T and Verizon added almost 2 million customers apiece in the fourth quarter alone.

Sprint posted a quarterly loss of $29.5 billion. Separately, Sprint took a non-cash impairment charge of $29.7 billion related to its Nextel merger, which closed in 2005.

In a sign of how tough things have become, Sprint also said it would stop paying dividends "for the foreseeable future." The suspension marks the first time in more than 70 years that the company hasnt paid a dividend, Sprint spokeswoman Leigh Horner says.

Sprint shares, already weakened by a years worth of bad news, dropped almost 10%.


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