Some time in the next quarter, Sprint plans to grant prepaid Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers access to faster 4G data speeds via Clearwire's older WiMax network.
WiMax is an older 4G standard, slower than the newer LTE that's being widely adopted by other carriers, including Verizon and AT&T.
Sprint is rolling out LTE support this year as well, with 10 cities getting access by June. Sprint's Samsung Galaxy Nexus, HTC Evo 4G LTE, and LG Viper smartphones all come with the promise of LTE access.
But WiMax will stick around a while longer as the network of choice for Sprint's prepaid customers, the company's president of network operations, Steve Elfman, said on an earnings call today.
Prepaid Boost and Virgin Mobile is vital
Despite the popularity of contracts and the allure of heavily discounted, newer smartphones, prepaid customers remain vital to Sprint's business, Elfman said.
The carrier added 489,000 prepaid customers in the first quarter, actually surpassing contract customer growth.
Giving these many prepaid customers access to WiMax 4G will make prepaid phones, which often end up costing more in the long run, more appealing.
More importantly, though, it will also alleviate part of the burden on Sprint's 3G network, which is beset by thousands of 3G-only iPhone users.
3G is suffering, blame it on the iPhone
Sprint customers were given the option to purchase Apple's iPhone for the first time ever last year, and the popular smartphone has become a strain on Sprint's 3G network. Offloading prepaid customers onto WiMax 4G should lift some of that burden.
Elfman also noted that software they've added to other smartphones will cause the phones to search for Wi-Fi and WiMax whenever possible to further unburden their 3G network.
WiMax 4G remains a good option for Sprint because of the carrier's long-standing wholesale agreement with WiMax network provider Clearwire.
Although Clearwire plans to upgrade to the faster 4G LTE standard next year, WiMax will remain operational for some time. But LTE is expected to extend even to prepaid phones eventually.
Sprint reported an $863 million loss in the first quarter, double their loss in last year's first quarter, partly due to shutting down their Nextel network. They did, however, report some revenue growth.