What a Sprint iPhone 5 could mean for the Now Network

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: August 29, 2011

The latest word on the street is that the iPhone may be heading to Sprint this go-around – not likely in a WiMAX flavor. This is hardly the first time we've heard of Apple's iconic smartphone making headway towards the Now Network. It was believed that since the iPhone 4 finally arrived on Verizon that it may also make its way on over to the other major CDMA network. But that was back in February and it's a bit late for them to be launching another version of the aging iPhone 4.

Naturally, these rumors spawned again with the bucketloads of iPhone 5/4S rumors of late, and apparently, Sprint is informing its employees to stay mum on this issue. That doesn't necessarily mean a Sprint iPhone is coming, but it's rather odd that they didn't just kill the rumors altogether if they weren't true. Nonetheless, there are many things to consider if such an influential device were to make its way to another carrier.

When the CDMA iPhone 4 arrived at Verizon's doorsteps, we all wondered what would become of their strong Android campaign and how the two platforms would compete head to head. With Sprint it's a very similar ballgame. Before last week, the only competition to Android in Sprint's smartphone lineup was the HTC Arrive, a run-of-the-mill Windows Phone 7 device; and the new BlackBerrys arrived last weekend to join their struggling and battered brethren. Sprint's Android lineup has had next to no adversity; the handsets have had free reign and have only competed amongst themselves.

If the iPhone does make its way to the Now Network, some of the best Android devices to date will be pitted against one of the best selling line of phones … ever. It's not a matter of how they stack up on paper or how “Droid is better than the iPhone." The fact of the matter is, the iPhone will take a chunk out of Android sales – we've already witnessed this on Big Red. It shouldn't matter to Sprint as a sale is a sale – one more paying customer to add to the tally. But being one of the strongest proponents in the little green robot's favor, they could be swamped by a mass of Android-fatigued customers looking to get their hands on something shiny and new. This isn't really a major threat to Android, but Apple is gaining territory one step at a time.

And that's only half of the story. The Now Network is the only remaining major US wireless provider with truly unlimited data. I imagine people will put two and two together as the new iPhone approaches and they may flock to Sprint to get their CDMA iPhone with unlimited, uncapped data, especially those who missed their chance on Big Red last month. Their plans are notoriously cheaper than those offered by both AT&T and Verizon, so switching to get fully unlimited data while saving some change every month may attract the undecided masses.

If true, this may be the straw that breaks the camel's back. We know it's only a matter of time before Sprint can no longer handle its 33 million subscribers (give or take a few hundred thousand) with truly unlimited data. We saw what happened to AT&T when their network began to crumble before them, and if Sprint becomes the go-to network for unlimited data for the upcoming iPhone, they could face similar odds. One of two things will happen. They, too, will swap unlimited data for a less friendly, capped structure. Or, like T-Mobile, they might start throttling data. They've been dodging the tiered data bullet for months now and outlasted all of the competition, but it's only a matter of time before they have to switch. The iPhone will likely act as a catalyst in the transition.

I'm all for competition and I'm glad to see the iPhone finally reaching new heights and new customers, but the iPhone could knock Sprint from its path to righteousness. Since early 2009, Sprint has been on a customer satisfaction binge and completely turned their failing network around. They've also been undercutting the competition by offering cheaper plans, meaning they haven't been earning as much money. An iPhone release on their network may put them at capacity and force them to change their game plan yet again.

It will definitely be interesting to see how it pans out if the iPhone reaches yet another carrier. What say you? Is the iPhone the alternative to Android (oh yeah, I went there) that Sprint desperately needs? Or will it simply bring unwanted evils – like tiered data – to their network?

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