Sprint Nextel said on Wednesday that HTC Corp's <2498.TW> EVO, its most advanced high-speed wireless phone so far, would go on sale on June 4 for $199, a price it hopes will win back subscribers lost in the last few years to its bigger rivals.
The EVO, which is the first in the country to support fourth-generation (4G) high-speed data speeds, could compete well against Apple Inc's iPhone, according to analysts who say the launch will likely be far enough in advance of the next iPhone launch, also expected this summer.
The operator hopes EVO will give it a head start over rivals such as market leader Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc , which has said it expects to offer its first 4G phone in 2011.
They'll sell a lot of these, said Hudson Square Research analyst Todd Rethemeier, citing the phone's fast Web access and advanced features which include two cameras and a large screen.
One downside may be scant 4G coverage for the device with markets such as New York not getting 4G until after the summer.
The EVO will run on a high-speed wireless network that Sprint's Clearwire Corp venture is building based on WiMax, a new mobile technology. The Clearwire network will only work at 4G speeds in markets covering about 40 million of the country's population of about 300 million. Clearwire will expand to cover 120 million by year-end.
Another sore point could be Sprint's $10 a month extra service fee for EVO users in both 3G and 4G markets, amounting to an extra $120 per year.
However, Rethemeier said that even with the extra charge Sprint's cheapest $79.99 monthly service plan would still be very competitive with the fees of its bigger rivals.
While Sprint boasts that the difference between the 4G and 3G data speeds is like night and day CEO Dan Hesse promised at a Sprint event on Wednesday that the device will stand out as the highest-spec phone on the market for customers using networks based on slower third generation (3G) networks.
Sprint also said on Wednesday that the device, which it first announced in March, will make use of its two cameras -- one at the front and one at the back -- will support the country's first mobile two-way video conferencing service.
The company had said earlier in the day that it had a long waiting list of customers who had shown interest in buying the device by pre-registering on its website.
We believe its going to appeal across a number of fronts, Matt Carter, the head of Sprint's 4G business, told Reuters in an interview. In particular, he cited mobile users of social networking websites such as Facebook.
He said the device, the first of two WiMax phones Sprint plans to sell this year, is only part of Sprint's plan to regain ground lost to Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc , which is the exclusive U.S. iPhone provider.
They've been eating off what they perceived as a dead corpse but, we're back, Carter said.
The executive told Reuters that Sprint also was in talks with electronics companies including from General Electric Co and Samsung Electronics <005930.KS> about embedding WiMax connections to consumer devices.
Carter declined to comment on timing for any products but said that devices being discussed included everything from e-readers to cameras and washing machines to medical equipment.
What we're trying to do here is not think like a traditional carrier, to advance new ways of thinking in the market, he said.
Apple also is expected to debut a new iPhone this summer. But Carter said people interested in iPhone likely already own one.
Also on Wednesday, Dan Schulman, head of Sprint's prepaid business, said during a webcast of a Jefferies investor conference that the company is also poised to launch new prepaid service offerings.
Sprint will aim its next prepaid offering at older phone users who shop at Walmart and want no nonsense mobile phone services and do not care about having the latest advanced devices.
Sprint's stock edged up 2 cents to close at $4.15 on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew. Editing by Robert MacMillan, Carol Bishopric and Richard Chang)