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Sprint is dead. Long live Sprint

Sprint is dead. Long live Sprint


Farewell to the carrier that coulda been a contender

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Sprint Flatiron Logo
Sprint Flatiron Logo

It’s done. We now have just three major cell phone carriers in the US: Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, which just completed its merger with Sprint. It’s been such a long time coming and has seemed so inevitable that the news — on April Fools’ Day, no less — felt like little more than a blip in the tech world.

If you’re a Sprint customer, don’t panic. Chaim Gartenberg has the answers on what’s next for Sprint customers now that the T-Mobile merger has gone through. There’s no need to worry that things will change significantly in the short term. And T-Mobile is doing what it can to offer some immediate benefit. Sprint customers may get access to T-Mobile’s LTE network if their phones support its bands and may get software upgrades to support T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere is stepping down. Over the past eight years he has brilliantly executed a strategy that combined a calculated leather-jacket-wearing persona, an even more calculated insurgent brand, and genuine improvements in both service and price. I have expressed and will continue to express concern that T-Mobile has undercut net neutrality and I still think long-term this merger will encourage the big three to raise prices. But the bigger picture is that two-year contracts and onerous data caps may still be widespread if it weren’t for T-Mobile.

But I come here today not to praise John Legere, but to bury Sprint.

When any big company goes down, it’s impossible to point to any single cause and say “that’s it, that was the mistake.” There are always a hundred “if but for” examples you could point to. I have often pointed to Sprint’s gigantic bet on WiMAX as the 4G technology of the future when LTE is what ultimately won out. I think that hurt Sprint’s chances but I also recognize that it’s an oversimplification to just say that WiMAX did it. You could do the same thing with the Nextel acquisition, too.

So rather than a post-mortem, I want to celebrate Sprint’s glory days. Because once upon a time, Sprint was by far the best carrier for nerds who were into smartphones. I’m talking about the days before and just after the iPhone — so yes, this is praise for a time that’s more than a decade behind us now.

But in those mid-to-late-aughts days, there was no better place to be a smartphone user than on Sprint. Verizon was literally turning off GPS and limiting Bluetooth while Cingular (soon to be AT&T) was struggling to figure out how to prepare its network for the iPhone onslaught. Both charged a lot of money to use their networks. And T-Mobile, well, it was doing its damnedest to get sold off to AT&T.

Sprint, meanwhile, had a really solid CDMA 3G network, charged less than its competitors, and didn’t try to break smartphone functionality left and right in a bid to upsell you on its own services. If there was such a thing as “uncarrier” in those days, it was Sprint.

And actually, I want to just mention that Sprint was more willing to work with people who had questionable credit, too. Sometime that could feel a little predatory, but often it meant that people who would otherwise not have access to a cell phone could get one.

I base that observation not just on my own experience (I was very bad with money!), but on what I saw in the community that formed around Sprint. In those pre-Reddit and pre-Twitter days, we hung out on various vBulletin forums — shout out to Howardforums in particular.

Many of us came to those communities because we were looking for the not-so-secret program called SERO — the Sprint Employee Referral Option. It was a way to save some money on your bill and it wasn’t that hard to acquire if you could talk to the right person.

But while you were hustling your way into a SERO plan, you discovered a group of people who were just as excited about the latest Windows Mobile or PalmOS smartphone as you were. It sounds (and is) quaint, but the combination of all of these things was a big deal. Sprint genuinely made technology more accessible to a wider swath of people than other US carriers.

Were it not for its prices, its openness to new technology, and the communities that formed around those two things, I probably wouldn’t be writing these words to you right now.

Sprint even had 2008’s version of a disruptive plan, the “Simply Everything” plan that offered unlimited voice, texting, and data — a relative rarity in those days.

Whatever fight was in Sprint dissipated ten years later as it quietly prepared itself for a T-Mobile acquisition. Sprint was never mighty and never quite managed to compete successfully against its larger competitors. But for a time it served an underserved group of people when other carriers wouldn’t.

Ex-T-Mobile CEO John Legere deserves credit for turning that company around and taking up much of the work that Sprint started. He got attention by cursing while wearing a bright pink T-Shirt. But take a moment to remember that ex-Sprint CEO Dan Hesse got attention by calmly walking the streets of New York in black and white.

Rest in peace, Sprint.

Apple and Amazon, sittin’ in a ...smoke-filled room

In a shocking development today, Amazon quietly updated its app to allow in-app rentals and purchases on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. This goes counter to everything we’ve expected from Apple’s rules around the App Store. Amazon is processing payments directly and apparently not paying Apple its 30 percent cut. Apple’s statement confirms it: Apple now lets some video streaming apps bypass the App Store cut.

Apple claims that this isn’t some new policy, because it has allowed a couple of other video services to do it. But I don’t know, it sure as hell felt new to me and to everybody else who’s been following the “Apple tax” closely. Why does Amazon get to use its own payment system and not, say, Fortnite? Or any developer, really?

I have many, many thoughts on this but not enough time to get into them all here. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s newsletter.

The Zoomlash

So I deeply hate the word “techlash.” As an occasional punster, it strikes me as lazy and awkward. So you’d think that I would hate the word “Zoomlash,” but look: it’s also lazy and awkward, which is an apt description of Zoom’s approach to security and privacy. So I’ll allow it.

Casey Newton’s newsletter, The Interface, went deep on Zoom today, so I encourage you to not only subscribe, but read his take on Zoom. It’s good and I would link to it but it’s not live on our website as I compose this. Newsletters! In addition, though, here are some good pieces that I do have links for:

┏ Zoom faces a privacy and security backlash as it surges in popularity. 

┏ The best alternatives to Zoom for videoconferencing.

┏ Saying ‘I do’ over Zoom.

News from The Verge

┏ Exclusive: Detroit Amazon workers plan to walk out over handling of COVID-19.

┏ Six Dark Sky alternatives for Android weather watchers. Barbara Krasnoff takes a look at a few of the best options right now.

┏ YTMND is back, a year after shutting down. This is the very very very best news.

┏ YouTube reportedly working on TikTok competitor called Shorts. Everybody has to make a version of everybody else’s stuff, I guess. Anyway, if TikTok beats this challenge back I call dibs on the headline “TikTok pantses Shorts.”

┏ Sony’s latest true wireless earbuds have nine-hour battery life and cost $129.99. They’re kinda funny looking, but aren’t all wireless earbuds anyway? I will say I would not have expected Sony to start competing at this price point.

Priced at only $129.99, the XB700s feature Sony’s signature “Extra Bass” technology for punchier sound output. At that price, Sony is undercutting competitors like Jabra and Samsung.