After a few days of rumors and plausible speculation, the news has been confirmed by Sprint CEO Dan Hesse himself: Sprint Prepaid will be offering WiMax as of this Summer with the forthcoming availability of the EVO Design 4G on Boost Mobile and the recently discontinued HTC EVO 3D to be released on Virgin Mobile.
To add to the good news, the monthly rates for each respective service will remain as they are with the current throttling rates for smartphones being kept in place. This comes as the carrier reported 1st quarter earnings earlier this morning, with an increase in postpaid subscribers thanks to the iPhone along with the increase in unit sales for the storied device, but still recorded an overall loss of $255 million. As reported previously, the release of both the Design 4G and EVO 3D on each respective brand will enable Sprint to compete with other prepaid brands, as no prepaid MVNO currently offers access to 4G service, all being currently limited to some form of HSPA+ or EV-DO Rev. A access.
What has yet to be confirmed however, is pricing for the handsets themselves, as both the Design 4G and EVO 3D carried deep post agreement subsidies in order for Sprint to drive customers to 4G service. As the most expensive phones in the current Boost and Virgin Mobile lineups top out at $279.99, will either brand raise handset prices to compensate for the added expense of the devices, or will they continue to fix the high-end pricing at current levels? For Sprint to even extend 4G access to its Prepaid Group is a big step in itself, but more needs to be done in such a price sensitive part of the market in order to keep the competitive advantage that prepaid 4G service represents.
With Verizon and AT&T loathe to even think about expanding LTE access to MVNOs, Sprint is also in the unique position of offering both versions of 4G access to different markets, as it’s actively moving away from 4G WiMax for postpaid and moving to LTE, while realizing that moving WiMax downmarket opens up more opportunities for growing its prepaid offerings, which happen to be its most profitable business sector at this time.
It’s only a matter of time before WiMax handsets are also offered to its wholesale MVNO partners as well, potentially tripling its installed base for WiMax, ironically at the point where it’s being replaced by the new defacto standard for 4G in LTE. More specific information about handsets and availability is expected in the future.