United States carrier Sprint, the nation’s third-largest wireless telecommunications network, announced today holiday quarter earnings containing a couple interesting tidbits related to Apple’s iPhone, which helped bring in most of its new customers. Sprint reportedly ponied up $20 billion to land Apple’s iconic smartphone last October, calling the handset launch in today’s statement “successful.”

Forty percent of Sprint’s 1.8 million iPhone sales in the fourth quarter were to new customers. 

This means some 720,000 Sprint iPhones went into the hands of new customers—once again highlighting Apple device’s proven ability to attract new consumers. Sprint only added 539,000 net additions to the postpaid base, so it would likely have lost around 200,000 customers without the iPhone in its lineup.

According to Sprint’s internal estimates, high costs associated with subsidizing the iPhone —combined with the impact of iPhone and Network Vision costs— are to blame for wider than expected short term loss, which reached an astounding $1.3 billion in Q4 2011 and $2.9 billion for 2011. These factors also reduced fourth-quarter adjusted operating income before depreciation and amortization (OIBDA) of $842 million by approximately $684 million.

Reuters reported in October 2011 that Sprint paid about 40 percent higher subsidy to Apple than the industry average, amounting to $200 more per device.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has some nice words for Apple’s phone:

Our strong fourth quarter performance illustrates the power of matching iconic devices like the iPhone with our simple, unlimited plans and industry-leading customer experience,” said Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO. “During the past year, Sprint added more than 5 million net new customers and grew wireless service revenue by more than 5 percent, including 17 percent for the Sprint platform.

Sprint added 1.6 million new customers for a total of 55 million net subscribers at the end of the holiday quarter, 33 million postpaid and 14.8 million prepaid. iPhone also helped save Sprint’s otherwise bittersweet third-quarter results when it reported best-ever day of sales in retail, web and telesales in its history, saying it expected iPhone users to be among its most profitable customers. Back then, CEO Dan Hesse told investors on a conference call that “iPhone has an expensive contract, but is worth every penny.” Sprint’s 1.8 million iPhone sales in Q4 compare to 4.3 million iPhones sold on the Verizon Network and 7.6 million AT&T iPhone activations. In addition to AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, regional carriers C Spire and Claro Puerto Rico also carry Apple’s device in the United States.

The press release for the earnings announcement is below:

Sprint Nextel Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2011 Results

Quarterly year-over-year Sprint platform postpaid ARPU growth of $3.69 is the best on record in the industry

• Largest sequential increase in net operating revenues in more than five years
• Sprint serves more than 55 million customers – highest level ever
• 1.6 million total net subscriber additions in the quarter – best since 2005
• 539,000 postpaid net additions on the Sprint platform in the quarter
• Strong iPhone sales – 40 percent to new customers
• Network Vision on schedule and on budget; six major cities to launch 4G LTE by mid-year with the addition of Kansas City and Baltimore
• Adjusted OIBDA* of $842 million and the first year of Operating Income since 2006

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (BUSINESS WIRE), February 08, 2012 – Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S) today reported Adjusted OIBDA* of $842 million for the fourth quarter and nearly $5.1 billion for the full year 2011. Wireless service revenues for the fourth quarter increased more than 7 percent year-over-year, driven by Sprint platform postpaid ARPU growth of $3.69 – the largest year-over-year increase on record across the U.S. wireless industry. Strong revenue growth and cost management partially offset the impact of increased equipment net subsidies and sales expense associated with the successful launch of the iPhone®. Forty percent of Sprint’s 1.8 million iPhone sales in the fourth quarter were to new customers. Based on internal estimates, including incremental costs associated with iPhone sales, the combined impact of iPhone and Network Vision costs reduced fourth quarter Adjusted OIBDA* margin, which was 10.8 percent, by approximately 8.8 percentage points.

The company reported total net subscriber additions of 1.6 million during the fourth quarter of 2011 – the best quarterly result in six years – bringing total ending subscribers to the highest level in the company’s history. Total postpaid net additions of 161,000 for the fourth quarter represent the tenth consecutive quarter of year-over-year improvement and were driven by continued strength of the Sprint platform, which had net postpaid additions of 539,000. This is the seventh consecutive quarter of net postpaid subscriber growth on the Sprint platform.

“Our strong fourth quarter performance illustrates the power of matching iconic devices like the iPhone with our simple, unlimited plans and industry-leading customer experience,” said Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO. “During the past year, Sprint added more than 5 million net new customers and grew wireless service revenue by more than 5 percent, including 17 percent for the Sprint platform. This momentum gives us confidence as we execute our Network Vision upgrade and 4G LTE roll-out.”

The company continued to rapidly grow the number of prepaid and wholesale and affiliate subscribers in the fourth quarter. Prepaid net additions were 507,000 bringing total prepaid subscribers to nearly 14.8 million at the end of 2011, an increase of 20 percent since the end of 2010. Net additions of 954,000 for wholesale and affiliates in the fourth quarter were the highest in seven years.

Additionally, the company reported a net loss of $1.3 billion and a diluted loss of $.43 per share for the quarter, which includes pre-tax, non-cash charges of $241 million, or $.08 per share, consisting of asset and impairment charges of $78 million on property, plant and equipment, $135 million on Sprint’s investment in Clearwire and $28 million in severance costs.

Sprint’s Network Vision initiative remains on schedule and on budget. In the fourth quarter, the company completed field integration testing and launched the first multi-mode base station and first cluster of cell sites, validating improved 3G data performance metrics, such as voice quality, call drops and blocks and improved data speeds. The company expects to bring approximately 12,000 sites on air by the end of 2012 and to complete the majority of its Network Vision roll-out in 2013. In addition, as part of Network Vision Sprint has announced it expects to begin launching 4G LTE by mid-year 2012. In addition to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Atlanta, Sprint today announced Kansas City and Baltimore will be among the initial six major cities to launch.

The company also raised a substantial portion of the additional cash needed to fund the Network Vision deployment, debt maturities and working capital requirements over the next few years. During the fourth quarter, Sprint raised additional financing of $4 billion and repaid all 2012 maturities prior to scheduled maturity. Sprint’s next scheduled debt maturities include $300 million due in May 2013 and $1.5 billion due in October 2013.

Sprint generated $257 million of Free Cash Flow* in the quarter. As of Dec. 31, 2011, the company’s total liquidity was approximately $6.7 billion, consisting of $5.6 billion in cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments and $1.1 billion of undrawn borrowing capacity available under its revolving bank credit facility.

In 2011, Sprint’s Customer Satisfaction and First Call Resolution scores improved year-over-year for the fourth consecutive year and third parties continued to affirm Sprint’s customer experience leadership. In the fourth quarter, Frost & Sullivan awarded Sprint the North American Customer Value Enhancement of the Year Award in the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Communications market, and Analysys Mason gave Sprint the highest M2M scorecard ranking among North American-based communications service providers. Last month, Sprint received the ATLANTIC ACM Best-in-Class Network Award for Global Wholesale Excellence. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine’s annual 2011 Best of Everything list awarded top honors to Sprint’s unlimited data plan, no annual contract offerings from Boost Mobile and payLo by Virgin Mobile. Last week, Virgin Mobile USA received the highest ranking in the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Wireless Customer Care Non-Contract Study – Volume 1, with Boost placing second. Sprint’s sustainable efforts also continued to gather accolades. Following Sprint’s third place ranking among U.S. companies on Newsweek’s 2011 Green Rankings in October, Sprint joined the exclusive World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers Program – one of only 27 global partners selected since 1999.

Besides adding the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s to the company’s industry-leading line-up of devices, Sprint also launched several other innovative products during the fourth quarter including HTC EVO Design 4G™, the company’s 25th 4G device. Sprint also launched the first three Sprint Direct Connect® phones, Kyocera DuraMax, Kyocera DuraCore and Motorola Admiral™, the first Sprint Direct Connect Android™ smartphone. Earlier this year, Sprint announced the initial group of devices that will operate on its 4G LTE network: Galaxy Nexus™, LG Viper™ 4G LTE with eco-friendly features and Sierra Wireless™ Tri-Network Hotspot. Also during the fourth quarter, Sprint unveiled a redesigned website for business, http://www.sprint.com/business, launched 4G Fixed Business Access, a business solution that turns any area into an instant office, and collaborated on M2M solutions including wireless kiosks to capture health and wellness information remotely.

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