Sprint’s Earnings Report + Update on LTE Wireless Network and 5G Launch

Sprint Corp.’s third quarter earnings report showed the company’s effort to produce rapid growth and cut costs, while awaiting approval of its proposed $26.5 billion merger with T-Mobile US Inc.

On Thursday January 31th, the Overland Park-based wireless carrier reported its second consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth in wireless service revenue and its sixth consecutive quarter of postpaid net additions. The company also reported its 12th consecutive quarter of operating income.

Sprint reported 309,000 postpaid net additions in the quarter that ended Dec. 31, an improvement of 53,000 compared to the previous year, as the carrier focused on growing revenue per customer with wearables and other services.

Sprint Corp. Logo (PRNewsfoto/Sprint Corp.)

“Sprint’s strategy of balancing growth and profitability while we work toward regulatory approval of our T-Mobile merger is reflected in our fiscal third-quarter results,” Sprint CEO Michel Combes said in a press release. “We delivered solid financials, increased network investments as we prepare for our mobile 5G launch, and continued the digital transformation of the company.”

For the full fiscal year, the company expects to cut costs by more than $1 billion for the fifth consecutive year, with net reductions of less than $500 million after reinvestments.  Sprint more than doubled its quarterly network investments, or cash capital expenditures excluding leased devices, to $1.4 billion, and increased by approximately $150 million compared to the previous quarter as the company moved toward launching its 5G service.  The company reports it now has 2.5 GHz spectrum deployed on approximately 75 percent of its macro sites, and has 27,000 small cells deployed — both key factors in deploying 5G service.

Sprint reported a net loss of $141 million in the quarter compared to a net income of $7.2 billion in the year-ago period.

https://investors.sprint.com/news-and-events/press-releases/press-release-details/2019/Sprint-Reports-Continued-Year-Over-Year-Growth-In-Wireless-Service-Revenue-With-Fiscal-Year-2018-Third-Quarter-Results/default.aspx

https://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/news/2019/01/31/sprint-third-quarter-earnings-report.html

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Highlights of Sprint’s Earnings Call:

Sprint CEO Michel Combes:

Atlanta is one of our Massive MIMO markets preparing for 5G launch in the coming months. That means fans in town for the Superbowl will see exceptional network performance in the highest traffic locations, whether they are inside or outside the stadium, to a nearby museum or hotel, or traveling around the city to one of the many special events planned this weekend.

We’re also preparing to launch our mobile 5G network in the first half of 2019. Our Massive MIMO radio are software upgradable to 5G NR as you know, allowing us to fully utilize our spectrum for both LTE and 5G simultaneously while we enhance capacity even further with 5G and begin to support new 5G use cases.

We celebrated an important milestone earlier this month on our path towards launching mobile 5G service in the first half of this year, when we completed the world’s first over-the-air 5G data transition using 2.5 and Massive MIMO on Sprint’s live commercial network.

We’ve also announced three 5G devices including smartphones from both LG and Samsung as well as a feature-rich mobile hotspot from HTC. The other carriers are not standing still, but our significant work investments, spectrum resources and cutting-edge technologies will help us continue to improve our network and we expect to deliver robust 5G experience in major metro areas.

Nevertheless, we’re hopeful to complete our merger with T-Mobile which is the only path to deliverings of breadth and depth of spectrum which will allow us to provide a truly consistent national-wide 5G experience to Americans.

As a stand-alone company, we love to scale to keep pace with the bigger carriers, AT&T and Verizon, in sustained capital investments and without additional low-band spectrum we will face challenges to provide customers with coverage comparable to that of the big two carriers.

Sprint CTO John Saw:

We expect to be substantially done with adding 2.5 GHz to where we needed it in another quarter, towards spring this year. And like we have said, we have made significant progress. A year ago, we were only at 50% of our sites having 2.5 GHz.

Small cells, again, a lot of momentum recently, 27,000 small cells. A year ago, we only had 3,000. So the permits are starting to come in. Some of our infrastructure that we are leveraging, especially with the cable companies, is making it easier for us to deploy small cells faster.

LTE Advanced has rolled out in more than 270 cities, and this is why we’re starting to make an impression even in the big markets where our customer experience speeds have improved significantly because of LTE Advanced.

We expect the LTE Advanced upgrades to complete around spring this year as well. Small cells will continue to be a focus for us because we need to continue to densify our networks even with 5G. A network is never done, Brett, so we are also rapidly transitioning to focusing on 5G as well. As you know, a lot of our radios that we’re deploying today with Massive MIMO allows us to simultaneously support LTE and 5G, and that is going to be the main focus for the rest of this year for 5G.

Closing remarks by Michel Combes:

We are aggressively executing our Next-Gen Network deployment to deliver a network build for unlimited with building the foundation for our mobile 5G network that will launch commercially in the coming months. We continue to enhance our value proposition and continue to transform our cost structure and customer experience with digital, artificial intelligence, advanced analytics and automation.

References:

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4237217-sprint-corporation-s-ceo-michel-combes-q3-2018-results-earnings-call-transcript?page=3

Sprint’s Next-Gen Network and Massive MIMO as “linchpin for 5G”

 

 

5 thoughts on “Sprint’s Earnings Report + Update on LTE Wireless Network and 5G Launch

  1. Sprint CTO Dr John Saw saying the carrier has doubled its quarterly network investment to $1.4 billion in an effort to improve speeds, coverage, and reliability.

    “We’re not standing still during the merger approval process, and we’ve seen a number of network achievements as we prepare to launch mobile 5G in the coming months,” Saw said in a blog post.

    Sprint is still on track to launch 5G mobile services across the initial 5G markets of downtown Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, and Washington DC in the coming months, Saw said.

    “With our largest network investment in years well under way, we’re working hard to improve our LTE Advanced network and launch mobile 5G,” the chief technology officer wrote.

    “We also continue to advocate for our merger with T-Mobile, knowing that together we can build an incredible nationwide 5G network neither company could achieve on its own that reaches underserved communities, accelerates competition, and drives new levels of innovation for all US businesses and consumers.”

    Sprint’s gigabit LTE offering is also now available in almost 300 cities, involving upgrades across 256 Quadrature Amplitude Moderation, 4×4 MIMO, and multiple carrier aggregation.

    “And no, we don’t label any of this 5G, because it’s not,” Saw said after rival telco AT&T faced criticism in January after branding devices as being 5GE.

    According to Saw, Sprint has added 2.5GHz spectrum to around 75 percent of its macro sites, and added 800MHz to “thousands” of mobile sites across the nation.

    Sprint now has 27,000 2.5GHz outdoor small cells on air including both mini macros and strand mounts, as well as distributing over 286,000 Magic Boxes, including the latest-generation model.

    As of the end of December, Sprint had 32.6 million post-paid customers; 8.8 million prepaid customers; and 13 million wholesale and affiliate customers for a total wireless customer base of 54.5 million, down slightly from 54.51 million the previous quarter.

    The carrier announced a net loss of $141 million for the third quarter and operating income of $479 million. Adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) was $3.1 billion, its highest Q3 adjusted EBITDA in 12 years.

    One of its recent digitisation initiatives has resulted in around 30 percent of all Sprint customer care chats now being performed by chatbots.

    Earlier in January, Sprint had announced completing a world-first 5G data call across 2.5GHz spectrum on a live commercial network in partnership with Nokia and Qualcomm, which it said moves 5G from the lab to the real world ahead of a first-half 2019 launch.

    The trial, which took place in San Diego, made use of Massive MIMO technology, Nokia’s dual-mode AirScale Massive MIMO radio, and a smartphone powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X50 5G modem and antenna modules with integrated RF transceiver, RF front-end, and antenna elements.

    Sprint was able to stream YouTube videos, conduct Skype audio and video calls, and send and receive instant messages during the test.

    During CES 2019, Sprint had confirmed that it will be launching a Samsung 5G smartphone in summer 2019, as well as unveiling the smart home small cell solution with LTE called Trebl with Magic Box.

    The Samsung 5G smartphone will connect to Sprint’s LTE and 5G networks, using its 2.5GHz, 1.9GHz, and 800MHz spectrum bands. The Samsung announcement comes after Sprint last year revealed that it is working with LG on the first 5G smartphone for the US in the first half of 2019; and with Qualcomm and Chinese tech company HTC to develop a 5G mobile smart hub to be released in the US during the first half of 2019.

    Sprint also used CES 2019 to announce that Greenville, South Carolina, will see its first smart city build-out based on both its Curiosity Internet of Things (IoT) platform and mobile 5G network connectivity; that it will be constructing a smart vehicle test track in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, which will also utilise Curiosity IoT, 5G, and micro-positioning tech; and that it is launching “precision mapping technology” with Mapbox, again using its Curiosity IoT and later its 5G network.

    https://www.zdnet.com/article/sprint-network-investment-doubles-to-1-4b-in-q3-ahead-of-5g/
    https://newsroom.sprint.com/fyq318-network-progress.htm

  2. Sprint has been lying to its customers and the press, according to a recent FCC filing where the telco wrote:

    Sprint is unlikely to play a meaningful competitive role as a standalone company in the years to come, and any assessment of the impact its proposed merger will have on competition or the public interest should account for its diminished ability to be an effective competitor absent the transaction.

    Sprint is in a very difficult situation that is only getting worse. Sprint’s network lacks the coverage and consistency that customers demand. Sprint’s lack of low band spectrum is at the root of these network problems, and that problem cannot be fixed because there is no low band spectrum available that Sprint could buy. As a result, Sprint is losing customers—which then reduces revenues and cash flow—further limiting its ability to invest in its network and service its debt. Simply put, Sprint is not on a sustainable competitive path.

    The financial analysts who follow Sprint and the wireless industry have recognized that Sprint has fundamental problems and is unlikely to be an effective competitor going forward absent the merger with T-Mobile US, Inc. (“T-Mobile”). Those analysts understand the need to consider more than the handful of isolated metrics that can be viewed as positive for Sprint. In their analyses, they see the same fundamental problems that Sprint has communicated to the Commission and in its public disclosures: Sprint’s network is deficient, it is losing customers, and it cannot generate enough cash to invest in its network, pay its debt obligations, and compete effectively. Indeed, those parties suggesting Sprint’s future is fine are substituting their judgment for the judgment of the financial analysts who follow the Company as part of their professional duties.

    Sprint’s key internal documents paint the same picture. This is perhaps seen most clearly in Sprint’s assessment of its standalone prospects as part of evaluating whether to enter into the proposed transaction with T-Mobile. Those documents—along with the objective facts surrounding Sprint’s negotiations with T-Mobile—reflect that Sprint had no clear path to competitive relevance, whether on a standalone basis or with a partner other than T-Mobile.

    https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/10415297968006/Sprint%20Standalone%20Ex%20Parte%20-%20REDACTED%20-%20FINAL%20-%204.15.2019%20%5BAS-FILED%5D.pdf

  3. Sprint has been lying to its customers and the press, according to a recent FCC filing where the telco wrote:

    Sprint is unlikely to play a meaningful competitive role as a standalone company in the years to come, and any assessment of the impact its proposed merger will have on competition or the public interest should account for its diminished ability to be an effective competitor absent the transaction.

    Sprint is in a very difficult situation that is only getting worse. Sprint’s network lacks the coverage and consistency that customers demand. Sprint’s lack of low band spectrum is at the root of these network problems, and that problem cannot be fixed because there is no low band spectrum available that Sprint could buy. As a result, Sprint is losing customers—which then reduces revenues and cash flow—further limiting its ability to invest in its network and service its debt. Simply put, Sprint is not on a sustainable competitive path.

    The financial analysts who follow Sprint and the wireless industry have recognized that Sprint has fundamental problems and is unlikely to be an effective competitor going forward absent the merger with T-Mobile US, Inc. (“T-Mobile”). Those analysts understand the need to consider more than the handful of isolated metrics that can be viewed as positive for Sprint. In their analyses, they see the same fundamental problems that Sprint has communicated to the Commission and in its public disclosures: Sprint’s network is deficient, it is losing customers, and it cannot generate enough cash to invest in its network, pay its debt obligations, and compete effectively. Indeed, those parties suggesting Sprint’s future is fine are substituting their judgment for the judgment of the financial analysts who follow the Company as part of their professional duties.

    Sprint’s key internal documents paint the same picture. This is perhaps seen most clearly in Sprint’s assessment of its standalone prospects as part of evaluating whether to enter into the proposed transaction with T-Mobile. Those documents—along with the objective facts surrounding Sprint’s negotiations with T-Mobile—reflect that Sprint had no clear path to competitive relevance, whether on a standalone basis or with a partner other than T-Mobile. Sprint says its ability to be an effective competitor will be diminished if the merger is not approved. “Sprint’s network is deficient, it is losing customers, and it cannot generate enough cash to invest in its network, pay its debt obligations, and compete effectively,” the company wrote in the filing.

    Sprint’s net debt has more than doubled to at least $33 billion since 2011. And yet, as recently as March 2018, less than two months before the T-Mobile US deal was announced, Sprint CEO Michel Combes (who was president and CFO at the time) argued that Sprint could still finance the buildout of a 5G network. Combes and his executive team have since walked back from those statements.

    https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/10415297968006/Sprint%20Standalone%20Ex%20Parte%20-%20REDACTED%20-%20FINAL%20-%204.15.2019%20%5BAS-FILED%5D.pdf

  4. T-Mobile-Sprint merger looks doomed–5G rationale holds little relevance to U.S. antitrust law:

    “There’s no justification to concentrate the wireless market in order to get 5G and better competition,” says Gene Kimmelman, a former antitrust attorney for the Justice Department.

    Regulators are skeptical about the claim that the market would be more competitive with three players rather than the current four. Mr. Kimmelman argues that the combination will only lead to higher prices and reduced quality.

    WSJ: Sprint Tells Regulators Its Business Is Worse Than Earlier Portrayed
    Sprint lost lucrative postpaid handset connections last quarter and expects to lose them for the entirety of the fiscal year that ended in March, excluding the prepaid-to-postpaid customer shifts, according to the filing.

    When it reported results for the last three months of 2018, Sprint highlighted that it had 309,000 total postpaid net additions, a year-on-year improvement. Sprint entered 2019 with 32.6 million postpaid connections and 8.8 million prepaid connections.

    “While these public statements and the individual metrics cited are all accurate, they are incomplete,” according to the filing by Sprint’s lawyers to the Federal Communications Commission, which was partly redacted. A Sprint spokeswoman declined to comment.

    It isn’t unusual for companies that have agreed to be acquired to claim that they have a brighter future with their suitor. Sprint, however, has increasingly stressed a narrative that it can’t survive on its own.

    In the same document, Sprint cites an analyst report suggesting that even entering into chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to restructure its balance sheet wouldn’t help long-term. “Sprint is in a very difficult situation that is only getting worse,” the filing said. “Sprint is not on a sustainable competitive path.”

    The filing states that the company’s board was told in January meetings that “many of Sprint’s most recent commercial metrics were well below plan and trending downward.” At a March 29 board meeting, CEO Michel Combes told directors that “Sprint is losing relevance with its customers.”

    Jeffrey Jacobovitz, chairman of the antitrust and competition practice at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP, said the approach wasn’t unusual. “It’s somewhat common in terms of a potential defense to the government challenging a merger,” he said. If such disclosures by a company are inconsistent with its public filings, however, it could cause problems with securities regulators, Mr. Jacobovitz added.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/sprints-confession-we-are-even-sicker-than-we-look-11555581601

  5. Light Reading on Sprint’s 5G Launch- May 31, 2019

    “This is a day I hope all of you in this room will never forget… the launch of 5G and the launch of this new wireless generation,” said Michel Combes, president and CEO of Sprint, as he took the stage to kick off the event.

    They certainly won’t forget the bill. To get 5G service, customers will need to sign up for Sprint’s Unlimited Premium plan; the plan costs $80 a month, and it includes Hulu and Amazon Prime.

    Earlier, a group of media gathered to talk about the 5G network with Sprint’s CTO John Saw. He touted the advantages of Sprint’s spectrum position (in the 2.5GHz band) but noted that carriers, in the long run, would create the most value for their customers by providing low-, mid- and high-band spectrum.

    Saw said that when Sprint launches its first nine 5G markets — four were launched yesterday — the carrier will reach about 11.5 million people, covering nearly 2,180 square miles with 5G service. “That is why I’m confident in telling you that this is probably going to be the largest initial 5G launch in terms of coverage and footprint,” Saw said.

    For the most part, the industry hype has far outrun the promise of 5G. And Sprint, as a company, has had a lot of false starts, a lot of setbacks in the last decade (or longer).

    But on the subject of 5G, they can’t be dismissed. On AT&T’s network and Verizon’s network, you can’t currently buy a smartphone that gets a 5G signal in Dallas or Fort Worth. You can get 5G service on a smartphone in those markets with Sprint. Does that make Sprint the first carrier to market with a 5G mobile service?

    https://www.lightreading.com/mobile/5g/scenes-from-sprints-big-5g-launch/d/d-id/751851?

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