Sprint Nextel got its first subscriber gain in four years in the fourth quarter of 2010, largely on the strength of the Evo 4G.
In its fourth quarter earnings call, Sprint said it added nearly 1.1 million wireless subscribers, the most since 2006 and the first gain since 2007. Net postpaid subscriber additions were 58,000, while net subscriber additions were 519,000 for the Sprint brand. An unprecedented 646,000 signed on as prepaid subscribers. Churn rates - the percentage of customers who leave -- also dropped to 1.86 percent, the best postpaid rate it has ever reported in the fourth quarter of any year.
The numbers capped off a pretty good year for Sprint. Although the company is still losing money, its outlook has improved from year ago. Consolidated net operating revenue for the year was $32.6 billion, with an operating loss of $595 million. That is a 57 percent improvement compared to 2009.
I am pleased with the progress Sprint made in 2010 in each of our three focus areas. Sprint's customer experience and brand continued to strengthen during the year, and we generated excellent cash flow. It had been almost five years since we added over a million customers in a quarter, and the annual improvement in postpaid subscriber results of 2.7 million versus the previous year is unprecedented in the history of the U.S. wireless industry, said Dan Hesse, Sprint chief executive, in a statement.
Sprint's range of 4G and 3G smartphones helped it gain subscribers and has helped it turn the corner, according to analysts. The company currently offers the Evo 4G, an HTC phone, which set sales records in June. In the last quarter, it announced the HTC EVO Shift 4G and the MiFi 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot from Novatel Wireless.
It also continued to push its 4G services, launching in 16 new markets including New York, San Francisco, Miami and Los Angeles. The company said it is now available in 71 markets, reaching more than 110 million people.
We have momentum entering 2011, and in addition to offering our customers simplicity and value with our unlimited data plans, we will continue to focus on device leadership, especially in 4G, as our 18 4G devices leads the industry by a wide margin, Hesse said.
The company's fourth quarter revenue of $8.3 billion exceeded analysts' average estimate of $8.15 billion and rose from $7.87 billion in the year-ago quarter. However, the company's capital expenditure of $608 million, up from $554 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 and $462 million in the third quarter of 2010, was one reason it continued to lose money.
In Sprint's outlook for 2011, the Overland Park, Kan.-based company expects to continue its subscriber gain, reach positive cash flow and have full capital expenditures of approximately $3 billion.