Sprint-Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S), the No. 3 U.S. communications company, reported a third-quarter loss below estimates but also said it had lost about 456,000 mobile subscribers.

Sprint’s net loss more than doubled to $767 million, or 26 cents per share, from $301 million, or 10 cents a year ago. Revenue increased about 5 percent to $8.76 billion. The net loss was far below the expected 43 cents per share.

Several analysts were pleased. "We were especially impressed," said Jennifer Fritsche of Wells Fargo Research. The results "were better than expected on what we thought would be a so-so quarter."

Shares of the Overland Park, Kan., carrier, which has agreed to sell a 70 percent interest to Japan’s SoftBank Corp. (Tokyo: 9984), rose 1.5 percent to $5.70, up 8 cents, close to the final SoftBank offer price of $5.75, in early activity, before easing to $5.60, down 2 cents.

This week, Sprint received $3.1 billion from its Japanese partner through a convertible bond sale, the first part of the deal, which isn't expected to be approved until mid-2013.

“The Sprint platform performed well,” said CEO Dan Hesse, who predicted the carrier will exceed fourth-quarter estimates, too.

Sprint, which acquired Nextel Corp. in 2006 in disastrous $33.8 billion deal, plans to shutter the Nextel network next quarter.

As a result, some Nextel subscribers left without switching to Sprint accounts. That left total Sprint-Nextel subscribers around 56 million, compared with nearly 106 million for AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), the No. 1 telecommunications carrier, and 95.9 million for the Verizon Wireless unit of Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), the No. 2 U.S. carrier.

On a net basis, Sprint lost 456,000 customers: Nextel accounted of a loss of 886,000, while the Sprint platform added 410,000 contract customers.

But there was a bright note: The carrier also reported selling about 1.5 million iPhones from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), the most valuable technology company. It was the last of the Big Three U.S. carriers to support the iPhone, in the fourth quarter of 2011.

That required a hefty payment around $15.5 billion to Apple for a five-year contract, which required Sprint to issue bonds twice to raise funds.

Fritsche, of Wells Fargo, noted that 40 percent of the new Sprint customers were iPhone users, a far higher proportion than reported earlier by AT&T and Verizon Wireless.