Sprint Nextel Corp reported a wider quarterly loss and a 9 percent decline in revenue on Thursday, as more valuable, monthly bill-paying subscribers dropped its wireless service.

The third-quarter loss widened to $478 million, or 17 cents a share, from $326 million, or 11 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue fell nearly 9 percent to $8.04 billion.

Analysts had expected the No. 3 U.S. mobile service to report a loss of 15 cents per share on revenue of $8.09 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

At the heart of Sprint's struggles is the loss of postpaid monthly-bill paying subscribers, the most highly valued customers in the wireless business. Sprint lost 801,000 in the quarter, even as it offered Palm Inc's

high-profile Pre phone. Analysts had figured it would lose closer to 870,000.

What is more, chief rivals, AT&T Inc, the U.S. home of iPhone, and Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc , added more than 3 million subscribers between them.

(Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)