If Only Someone At Sprint Had Balls

From where I sit, Sprint had an amazing opportunity this week to seriously challenge AT&T’s smartphone business in one fell swoop and it boils down to three simple things: better battery life, winning on features, and delivering 3G for the iPad. And guess how many were done? Yep, zero. So here’s my how-to designed just for the Sprint marketing and product development folks.

If there was ever a time to run down the iPhone juggernaut, we’re in its midst right now. With the Friday launch of the Sprint EVO 4G and Monday’s WWDC event unveiling the latest iPhone, users have a serious choice for the first time since iPhone mania began. (If you want to profess allegiance to your Palm or Blackberry devices, comment away but let’s all agree the top-tier smartphone battle is now among two platforms: Android and iPhone.) The 3G iPad is another potential watershed moment for the Sprint crew, but that appears to be slipping by as well. Let me explain…

Sprint could have taken serious share from AT&T’s smartphone business by attacking head-on where AT&T is most vulnerable: data. (Clearly the final death blow will be when Apple ends the exclusivity contract with AT&T and drops a CDMA version for Verizon.) There’s a two-pronged strategy involving the EVO 4G and Sprint’s hip brand Boost Mobile that could have struck at the heart of AT&T, but alas we see nothing.


Sprint EVO 4G: A Battery-Hobbled Maserati

So let’s look at how the EVO 4G could have been the iPhone killer, and it’s two simple issues: battery life and Mobile Hotspots. The battery issue popped up in most reviews, including two of my favorites: MG Siegler and Paul Stamatiou.  And in an absolute “I’m trying to be like Microsoft” move, the Sprint business guys actually let HTC ship the EVO 4G with the Sense UI which locks the device to Android 2.1 (unless of course you want to pull the Android version of jailbreaking your device). With reports that Froyo (Android 2.2) is driving significantly better battery life in Nexus Ones, why not plumb this power-hogging beast with the best-of-the-best? I’m sure the answer is launch timing, but if I want a smartphone with a three-hour battery life I’ll just enjoy the hell out of my iPhone for two years and end up in the same place.

And secondly, to even compete with the iPhone the rest of the market is going to have to leapfrog some major features. For Sprint, that should easily be their Mobile Hotspots service which is front and center on the spec sheet, but only the fine print tells you it’s another $30/month. Really? With tethering being the black hole of all wireless features, why not make a super-bold play and include it? I suspect I’m not the only dude in the world with a $100+/month cell phone bill who’s willing to change devices and carriers for a quantum leap forward – like one that makes me stop driving around in search of Starbucks or Panera. Bundled Mobile Hotspots would be a game changer for co-working and other collaboration-based environments. It might even be why lots of people save some cash by buying a non-3G iPad, which brings me to a related point…


iPad 3G: The Bandwidth Hog from the Capped Data Plan Future

So with AT&T capping data plans (and setting the market price) why hasn’t a scrappy brand come along with their own microSIM that simply snaps into the unlocked Apple device? Granted I’m not going to setup a SIM manufacturing facility in the basement, but what about a brand like Boost Mobile making a strong move in this space with an unlimited data plan behind their own microSIM for $15/month? That would allow Sprint (who owns Boost) to grab insane amounts of share in the iPad 3G data market virtually overnight. They could even do it under the Sprint name, but using the Boost brand delivers an extra coolness factor that would turbocharge the take rates.


So Why Not?

I’m sure there are lots of technical reasons not to dive headlong into being a high-volume data provider, but let’s remember one simple thing: Sprint is #3 in the market. Would this be the first time marketing and product development sold features in front of 100% network capability? Nope, but imagine the revenue potential associated with 5-10 percentage points in the US market and how that investment could blow out a data network. And I’m sure designing and producing a microSIM isn’t trivial, but the T-Mobile kids seem to be on track to pull it off for another product line so it’s clearly a matter of priority not feasibility.

So I say this to Sprint: keep coming up with reasons bold moves can’t be made. The bottom line is you’ll wake up on Tuesday still #3 in the market. Chalk it up to a missed opportunity. If you’d shown some balls, you would have gotten my $1,800/year cell phone business.

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