How long will Sprint's unlimited data last with the iPhone 4S?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| October 4, 2011

Well, Apple's new iPhone and iOS announcements are now behind us, and many of us were left unimpressed, disappointed, underwhelmed and probably a bit surprised. But that doesn't speak for everyone. There are some people out there who I know are excited: Sprint customers.

Right before exiting the stage, Tim Cook added one little tidbit of information that was sure to please Sprint customers. Being both GSM and CDMA compatible, the iPhone 4S will launch on Sprint's network, along with AT&T and Verizon, on the 14th. Not only that, but it appears as if the iPhone 4, which will soon drop $100 in price, will also arrive on Sprint. The 14th will only prove to be a big day for the Now Network.

Welcome to the party, Hesse and Co.

Just a week ago, Sprint CTO, Stephen Bye, came forward in an interview at the GigaOm Mobilize conference and claimed that the Now Network will be keeping their unlimited data. Both as a differentiating factor and a way to simplify the offerings to their users, Sprint will retain their current plan structure and will not tier data or throttle in the foreseeable future. Bye was drilled with questions about a – then unconfirmed – Sprint iPhone, and he stonewalled the interviewer.

In the interview, Bye did state that Sprint has done "tremendously well" without the iPhone. But now it will be arriving in just 10 days. How consumers and the network will react remain uncertain.

Today's announcements, though they may not see major to you or I, are enormous for Sprint. There are costs involved with keeping unlimited data, and I know it wasn't an easy decision for them to make. It's one that could quickly turn on them, if they're not careful. Not only is it a differentiating factor or a way to simplify their offerings. It's a gambit to scoop up more subscribers as unlimited data becomes less common – a gamble that their network can withstand the beating that their 27.4 million subscribers (as of April 2011), and future additions, can deal.

Unless you are currently grandfathered into an unlimited data plan, the only way to legitimately get an iPhone with unlimited data is to jump ship and switch to Sprint. This could ultimately lead to data hungry buyers flocking to Sprint's doors on the morning of the 14th. An instant surge of new subscribers (or existing postpaid subscribers who are upgrading from a feature or flip phone) could quickly take its toll on the thriving network.

Personally, I don't see that happening – the iPhone 4S is lacking in some pretty key features like WiMAX and a larger display. I figure mostly existing Sprint customers will be picking up their iPhone come October 14. Then again, nothing is outside the realm of possibility at this point.

If you've been following Aaron's tweets and reviews lately, you're likely well aware of the data issues he's been having on multiple Sprint devices (like the Nexus S 4G, EVO 3D, PHOTON 4G, Epic 4G Touch and Marquee). And it's not just him, or the Charlotte metro area. Aaron alone has experienced Sprint data issues in Charlotte, San Francisco, Orlando and NYC (specifically Manhattan). And people all over the web are chiming in about it, too. Aaron and I were talking about this a few hours ago and he added:

"The network is already struggling terribly. It regularly takes me minutes (3-6) to send a tweet on the EpTouch (AKA Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch) on 3G. [Data issues are] not isolated to one geographic area, or one part of the city, so far as I can tell."

Although Sprint may believe they can keep up the pace with iPhones on their network, we may see them follow in the footsteps of those before them. AT&T and Verizon both felt the repercussions of the iPhone on their network. Not long after the iPhone and the ThunderBolt (the first LTE phone) hit Verizon, they switched to a tiered data structure. And I think we all remember how AT&T temporarily halted iPhone sales in New York to save what was left of their tattered network.

The iPhone has always performed exceptionally well amongst strong competition. I have a feeling the iPhone 4S, despite far and wide claims of disappointment, will bring much of the same. But this added stress could bring Sprint's network to its knees.

My guess is that Sprint's endeavors to keep unlimited data alive are futile. As they grow in subscribers and data-mongers, their network will begin to take more of a beating. Just as a precautionary measure, if you're going to get a Sprint iPhone, snag one soon, before unlimited data disappears forever.

What do you guys and gals think? Will the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S take their toll on Sprint's network? Will they be the reason Sprint has to can their unlimited data efforts?

Image via Apple

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