It was only six months ago that Sprint decommissioned and shut down the Nextel iDEN push-to-talk network, and while the carrier has no plans to bring that legacy service back, the brand is another story.
According to a source close to the company, Sprint wants to introduce Nextel again — as a brand for business services. The source tells TechCrunch that this is part of a larger branding overhaul coming in Q1 in which Sprint plans to launch a new prepaid brand called “Sprint Freedom” — merging Boost and Virgin Mobile.
Sprint declined to comment for this story, but if the information from the source is accurate, the moves point to Sprint raising its game targeting businesses (particularly smaller and medium businesses) as well as streamlining its patchwork of services.
It also fits with the idea of Sprint — now majority-owned by Japan’s SoftBank — marching on in consolidation mode, shoring up to present a more competitive face against the likes of AT&T and Verizon. Most recently, Sprint has been reportedly preparing an offer for T-Mobile USA, its latest move after acquiring Clear and buying a portion of U.S. Cellular earlier this year.
The Nextel service, our source says, will be part of a bigger push to court business customers. That makes some sense: Nextel’s existing business subscriber base, and brand recognition with that segment, were seen as some of the main reasons behind Sprint’s $35 billion acquisition of the company in the first place.
The new Nextel business, says the source, will be underpinned by more service streamlining: it will be a “premium” offering consisting of the 4G fixed and mobile broadband services that were originally the Clear business. The Nextel name, our source says, will go “on top of everything that was Clear and then target businesses.”
Along with previously-Clear services, there will also be more devices introduced, specifically around Sprint Spark — the tri-band LTE service debuted earlier this year that gives users faster speeds and more reliable connectivity.
Introduced with smartphones from HTC (the One max), LG (G2) and Samsung (Galaxy Mega and Samsung Galaxy S4 mini), Sprint Spark will be extended with two hotspots and three tablets as part of the offering.
And with that, some changes also around pricing, apparently. “Unlimited data options will come back for the hotspots at a premium, but pricing will be tiered by speed,” the source claims. Sprint will also introduce group plans that will apply to the new Nextel devices.
Another part of plan, says that source, concerns Sprint’s prepaid businesses Virgin Mobile and Boost. Collectively, users on these two networks may generate less revenue than Sprint’s postpaid operations, but they serve as a useful counterbalance to the other service, adding customers last quarter as the number of ARPU-rich postpaid users declined.
Like Nextel and Clear, Virgin Mobile and Boost came to Sprint via acquisitions, and it looks like the carrier is now putting that in order, too.
Boost and Virgin Mobile will get wrapped into a new, single service called “Sprint Freedom.” It’s not entirely clear but it sounds as if this could mean the eventual scrapping of the two existing brands. Assurance Wireless, the free mobile phone service provided by Virgin Mobile under the Universal Service Fund, will not be affected, our source says.
While a lot of these plans sound like logical consolidation moves for the company, the question mark will be whether Sprint will manage to juggle all the changes without dropping anything (or anyone) in the process. A new Nextel business service would effectively mean a double-leap with a set of legacy products: first turning the Clear service into one focused less on consumers and more on businesses; and second rebranding it as a Nextel offering, but different from what Sprint was selling as a Nextel service not too long ago.
In the meantime, it is also not clear how a service called Sprint Freedom would sit alongside other services also called “Freedom” — such as Sprint’s international calling plans, not to mention the Freedom Pop “free” wireless service that is a wholesale customer on Sprint’s network.
And just as the closure of the Nextel brand earlier this year may have left some wondering whether Sprint would really let Nextel disappear into thin air, now the same might be said for Boost, Virgin Mobile and Clear. “It’s been a contentious issue for many,” our source said of the internal response to the changes. Perhaps one reason why these details got leaked to us.
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