Sprint’s latest family plan gives you twice the data as similar plans from AT&T and Verizon for roughly the same price. Sprint will also pay your early termination fee if you jump ship from a competitor while you’re still under contract. Sounds great, right? If you take a close look at the details, the luster wears thin in a hurry.
Simply put, the new Sprint plan provides more data than you probably need, on the worst network of any of the four major carriers.
In an exhaustive series of tests, RootMetrics recently rated Sprint’s performance in three of five key benchmarks worse than all of its leading competitors: AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. It was dead last in speed, data performance and call performance. It finished third, above T-Mobile, in text performance and reliability.
All of those areas are significant, but you’ll really notice the difference in download speed, particularly if you’re in one of the areas where Sprint has not yet built out its LTE network. Overall, Sprint’s wireless network is more than 20 percent slower than Verizon’s, according to RootMetrics.
Normally when tests like these come out, companies that fare poorly argue about the results. Not this time. “When you have a great network, you don’t have to compete on price,” Sprint’s new CEO, Marcelo Claure, told LightReading last week. “When your network is behind, unfortunately you have to compete on value and price.”
Sprint offers a lot of different wireless plans, some fairly complicated. This new plan, though, is straightforward: A family of four that already owns its own phones or is financing phones through Sprint’s Easy Pay program can get twice as much data as it would from AT&T and Verizon and still pay the same price. For $160 a month Sprint customers get 20GB of data compared to 10GB from the two larger carriers.
If a customer switches from another carrier before September 30, she gets a discount of $60 a month, which brings the total cost down to $100 a month for 20GB of data. However, the cost goes up to $160 a month at the end of next year.
Also, do you really need 20GB of data? Unless you’re one of those dastardly “data hogs” the carriers always complain about, you likely use a lot less data in a month. Verizon throttles its customers who use 4.7GB of data (or more) and who fall into the top five percent of its users, according to the carrier.
All of that said, I think Sprint merits watching because it is in midst of improving its network. Sprint’s new CEO also knows the company has to compete on price, at least for now, so I expect to see even better deals in the future.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.