Sprint’s demonstration of its 1 Gbps wireless data speeds yesterday was more about show than it was about a new reality for customers. 1 Gbps speeds are impressive — Google Fiber runs at such high speeds in select U.S. cities — but Sprint’s new applicable wireless speeds won’t be anywhere near 1 Gbps. Its developing network will run at 50 or 60 Mbps, according to reports. The 1 Gbps speed was more of a promise of things to come as the number-three U.S. wireless carrier seeks ways to stop losing customers to AT&T and Verizon.
The carrier’s new speeds are part of what it’s dubbing its Spark technology — high-speed wireless available in five major U.S. cities: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and Tampa. And the plan for Sprint’s new LTE service includes onboarding four high-end smartphones from Samsung, HTC, and LG that will be compatible with the service. So with the speeds only available to Sprint customers in one of five cities with one of four smartphones, the technology seems a little limited right now. But with the obvious intention of building out the 60 Mbps wireless to more cities and incorporating more compatible devices, Sprint appears to be aiming at future customers — perhaps the ones that finally get sick of AT&T dropping their calls in congested or densely populated areas.
T-Mobile — the number-four wireless carrier in the U.S. — has pushed out several competitive projects to try to ramp up its customer base as well. Free international roaming data and the lifting of other traditional restrictions that carriers place on customers including multi-year contracts have helped the company somewhat over the last year; it did report 1 million new customers brought on in its second quarter. But whether or not its tactics — and Sprint’s — will be enough to break the duopoly of AT&T and Verizon in the U.S. wireless market is impossible to say. Those two providers have been on the 4G LTE wireless train for a couple of years — building out high data speeds in many U.S. cities, and dominating the market with multi-layered packages that govern internet, TV, and smartphone access. Together, they control over 70% of the U.S. smartphone market — a daunting prospect for even the likes of Sprint and T-Mobile, who have struggled to keep up but done a decent job of it in the process.
But every holiday season brings new hope for challenged technology companies, and as 2013 wanes, Sprint is aiming for a little bigger slice of the smartphone pie with high-speed LTE as the bait.