Sales of iPhones helped Sprint Nextel Corp. grow its customer base in the first quarter.
Sprint sold more than 1.5 million iPhones in the three-month period, and 44 percent of the devices were purchased by new subscribers. Sprint added nearly 1.1 million customers, including 263,000 subscribers on contract.
The financial story was more somber for the nation’s third-largest wireless carrier, whose net loss roughly doubled to $863 million from $439 million in the year-ago quarter. Sprint’s liquidity, though, has improved after the company raised another $2 billion to help fund its network transformation, debt maturities and working capital requirements over the next few years.
Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint said it ended the quarter with about 56 million customers. Wireless service revenues rose 7 percent year-over-year to $7.2 billion, mainly reflecting growth in Sprint’s postpaid average revenue per user ($4.03), the company reported.
Sprint is behind its rivals, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, in the race to build a 4G network based on Long Term Evolution, or LTE. The company, however, said it continues to expect that it will launch 4G LTE service in six major cities by the middle of this year.
Apple’s current iPhone 4S, which AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless all sell, doesn’t support 4G LTE. The next iPhone is expected to include LTE, and many analysts believe Apple will debut a new smartphone later this year.
Sprint this week introduced its first two 4G LTE smartphones: the Galaxy Nexus and LT Viper 4G LTE. The carrier also intends to sell the HTC EVO 4G LTE.