"Sprint could take the same road and try to compete more aggressively on price, which could have the effect of restarting subscriber growth," said Matthew Goodman, analyst at ITG Investment Research, who saw few short-term alternatives.
Superior network in the works
Sprint, long the industry's technological weakling, has not been sitting on its laurels. It has invested $5 billion to upgrade its much maligned network in a transformation likely to trickle down to customers by the end of next year.
Sprint's new network should allow the company to combine the vast and spectrum it obtained from a 2013 acquisition of Clearwire, with its other radio wave holdings. This has created a superior high speed offering known as Sprint Spark, which analysts say should be the best in the industry.
Still, even more investment is needed to make Sprint's network competitive with those of other top carriers. Spark is only available in 24 cities, and its goal is to reach 100 U.S. cities by 2016.
The challenge will test the abilities of Claure, a Bolivian-born billionaire who got his start distributing cellular handsets from U.S. manufacturers in Latin America. Brightstar, which he founded in 1997, distributes phones to companies in the United States and elsewhere. SoftBank acquired the company in January.
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"They still obviously need a lot of network expertise and they have that. But having someone in charge who is more marketing-oriented coincides with the chief executive of SoftBank's outlook," said Bill Menezes, an analyst at Gartner, referring to Japanese tycoon and Sprint Chairman Masayoshi Son.
"Masa is known for innovating pricing and marketing in Japan. He needs people to make Sprint their first consideration," said Menezes.