When Sprint confirmed that the iPhone 4S was headed to the US's Alamo of unlimited data, current Sprint subscribers feared that a tidal wave of iDevices could finally force the company to surrender to tiered data pricing.

Speaking to Forbes, CEO Dan Hesse said the iPhone was actually having the opposite effect, and that Apple's smartphone would actually reduce the rate of growth of smartphone data consumption because it uses Sprint's network more efficiently. Hesse claims the iPhone uses significantly less mobile data, and hits the network less often, than Android devices. Apple's strict guidelines about app network efficiency mean the iPhone, on average, is less data-hungry than its competitors.

While Hesse didn't provide any statistics to back this assertion up, the fact that Apple has such network usage regulations in the first place, and that Android does not, makes it seem like a pretty reasonable proposition to us. We'd be very interested in seeing some objective data (no pun intended) on this topic, though.

Hesse went on to say that Sprint would not release figures regarding iPhone sales until Apple's phone had been available on the network for a full quarter. Some analysts predicted that the iPhone could quickly make up 50% of the carrier's smartphone sales, but Hesse was sure not to set unrealistic expectations, saying that estimate was "a bit high."

Hesse also claims that many iPhone users on Sprint are new subscribers. This clashes to some extent with his assertion that the iPhone is helping Sprint keep unlimited data, as the device is clearly adding some new subscribers the carrier would not otherwise have acquired. This means the load on Sprint's data network is probably experiencing a noticeable increase. There's also the fact that any increased burden on Sprint's notoriously slow 3G is probably providing practical limitations on unlimited data. Unlimited may not be much use to customers experiencing data slowdowns caused by increasing network congestion.


David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    I received similar sentiments from a Sprint tech in their executive support team. More on that later, but the biggest challenge to Sprint's network turned out to be Android phones combined with shortage of parts necessary to perform tower upgrades. Tower upgrades were supposed to start last year, but were delayed till mid-this-year.

  • Ilya

    Adding new subscribers does NOT clash with the assertion that the iPhone is helping Sprint keep unlimited data. New subscribers means additional revenue, which will be used for network maintenance and capacity upgrade.

  • David Ruddock

    Er, you're making the assumption Sprint is immediately reinvesting that money in backend overhaul and network maintenance in amounts that will proportionally account for the growth.

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but network capacity upgrades take time and planning to implement. In the meantime, speeds and latency suffer from increased congestion right now.

    In the long term, this may be true, but I think it's reaching to suggest that at this very moment, after Sprint spent $15 billion getting it, that the iPhone is somehow helping the carrier's network.

    • Michael Saylor

      You seem to be confusing network capacity with "unlimited" data. Undoubtedly the iPhone is causing a marked increase in network load for Sprint. But that's, frankly, immaterial. If that increased load is being caused by new subscribers, that means fresh revenue. Yes, it takes time to reinvest that revenue into your network, but they already have the Network Vision rollout planned. This added revenue lets them execute the rollout, thus keeping unlimited data. And if iPhone is more efficient than Android, you're effectively making that revenue boost even more significant than it would have been otherwise. You're missing the forest because of the trees here.

    • boe

      I'm hoping Apple sites the increadibly bad network speeds and pulls the iphone from Sprint. They can repackage them and sell them to Verizon.

      The bad press might actually get hess to get off his ass and find out about how slow the Sprint network is.

  • Johnny

    There's some pretty faulty logic going on here. Assuming the iPhone vs. Android network usage statements are correct, the iPhone would only be helping matters if large numbers of peoples were switching from Sprint Android phones to Sprint iPhones. Clearly a significant number of the iPhone users are new to Sprint, and probably a good chunk have upgraded from "dumb" phones -- all of which would add to the 3G congestion. Also, Sprint seems to have the most congestion on its 3G network, which the iPhone cannot access but which many of its Android phones can.

    With regard to the comment above, is there any evidence that Sprint is using new revenue to update capacity on its 3G network to any significant degree? The majority of what I've read seems to say that most of Sprint's network investing is going into LTE.

    Edit: That's a response to the comment two up, the immediate above post came in while I was typing.

    • http://verb0ze.net verboze

      LOL, thank you! the logic that *additional* users consuming *additional* bandwidth, no matter how little, would help Sprint keep unlimited data plans was lost on me XD

  • chris125

    The iPhone does use less data that was shown way back. Didn't stop the other carriers from dropping unlimited data.

  • Brain

    It does clash, after the iphone came out my data speeds went from a crappy 200kb down to around 50 kb down, it was time to jump ship

  • Ilya

    David Ruddock, Johnny, and Brain, I'll expand on my logic. The primary (only?) reasons for going away from unlimited data plans are:
    1) pursuit for more money;
    2) appearance of data hungry smartphones.
    New subscribers immediately give more money to Sprint, and iPhone's (assumed) smaller data consumption lowers the average data usage per smartphone.
    Yes, I understand that expanding network capacity requires time and planning. But Sprint learned about its iPhone months before release.

    My argument is not about that Sprint's 3G network got worse. It did. I'm saying it's not the reason to move away from unlimited data.

  • Brain

    Ilya , just cause they have new customers does not mean that they are making money right, remember this new accounts have subsidized phones, so it will take time for sprint to balance out with the phones cost and then reach a profit off each member, subscribers does not always mean more revenue in the short run, in the long run its a different story

    • Ilya

      Brain, I agree that new subsidized phones do not bring Sprint immediate cash. They bring accounts receivable, i.e. either a guaranteed 2-year stream of future revenue or $350 ETF. (And I am sure that both options are higher than what Sprint to pay Apple per phone. The 16GB iPhone 4S is $200 with 2-year contract, plus $36 activation fee, plus $350 ETF = $586. Compare it to $650 that Apple sells it for directly to customers. I am sure Apple gives Sprint more than $64 discount for wholesale.)
      So, this guaranteed stream of future revenue is what will help Sprint upgrade the network. I haven't heard that Sprint was short on cash. Is it?

  • Freak4Dell

    Hesse and the rest of his cronies will say whatever they need to about unlimited data, until the day it actually goes away. It will go away. Some people are saying next year, some people are saying later, but virtually no one is foolish enough to think that Sprint will offer unlimited data forever.

    When that happens, Sprint will be just like the big 2...except with a crappier network.

    • Brain

      ^^^ Thank You , and looking at their lte network plan, sounds like by the end of 2013 they will be where Verizon is at today.

    • L boogie

      You're right about Hesse and company saying what they will to save face but the bottomline is this; if this is the U.S's Alamo of unlimited data as David stated, much like the infamous battle that took place at the Texas town, it would FALL!! And now the countdown commences.

  • Chris McIntosh

    I can believe the data usage because Google doesn't seem to cache enough.

    When I hit repeat or seek through on a youtube video you'd think some would be cached -- but no, It just redownloads.

  • L boogie

    Somehow Sprint's agenda to save itself before it collapses may/ may not be too late considering you shelled out $15+ billion to acquire the iPhone (though most agree that using that type of capital to strengthen your network capacity would be better) and even though, a flood of new iPhone users would help the firm as Hesse suggests, the network congestion and frustrations felt by some of its customer base needs to be addressed. The idea that unlimited data would last on Sprint is dwindling very fast and much like on at&t and Verizon, it would soon be extinct just a matter of time.

  • boe

    Who cares if Sprint has unlimited data if it takes hours on their crappy ass slow network to upload a single picture or download a youtube video?

    • fins1771

      You're an idiot if you think it takes that long. Exaggerate much? My EVO3d browser loads fast. I watch YouTube just fine. Single page taking "hours". You win the dumb statement of the day. Sprint would have zero customers if it took 15 mins to load a page, let alone "hours". Idiot comments make me laugh.

  • Don

    With sprint's crappy 3g i couldn't have used 5 gigs of data in a month if i wanted to. I now pay less on tmobile, scream along at 7-10 mbps, and still haven't hit my 5 gig cap.

    • fins1771

      So apparently you don't use much data then.

  • cody

    well they may have got a lot of new customers. they also lost a bunch last quarter i think so if anything they are just jumping up to the base they had before. i do have to agree with the person saying about the re downloading of youtube videos its kind of like wtf.

  • RockingmyEvo3D

    Honestly sprint better get it's act together and very soon.

  • paxmos

    Dan Hesse is an idiot.

  • sprint undo

    screw the iphone. I just want my premier back! They basically killed off every single feature and perk they offered to long time customers and all so they can get the iphone? Last year I felt like a very appreciated customer and would stay with them for life. This year I feel like I need to move on from sprint because they don't give a crap about keeping customers anymore.