Monday, September 24, 2007

Sprint Nextel Merger "Almost Done"

More than two years after the acquisition that formed Sprint Nextel (S), the now nation's third-largest wireless provider(down from #2) is about 80 percent done with integrating the two sides together, the company's CEO Gary Forsee said last week. Let's just ignore the fact that almost 3 year to complete the merger is just way too long.

"We have a big opportunity in front of us," said Forsee in the meeting with analysts. He said the company should see profit margins improve as it begins next year to pare down its two wireless networks to one.

Sprint bought Nextel in August 2005 and has struggled with merging the two systems. Technical problems and a required swap of frequencies used by Nextel's press to talk network hurt call quality and customer service fiascos lead hundreds of thousands of customers to drop the service.

This year, the company began finally selling hybrid phones that work on both the Nextel network and Sprint's regular CDMA network, and it expects to have 2 million of the devices operating by the end of the year. Next year they will begin switching Nextel customers over to the CDMA network with a new press-to-talk system called QChat, which will go into widespread testing in Q4.

"We believe there's a lot of growth opportunity in push-to-talk," he said.

Sprint says having all their customers on one network will save money on operational costs and reduce investment in new cell sites and other support infrastructure.

All this is good and well but what Sprint needs to address is the fact its current customers are just not very happy. Sprint will make more than a dime a share when the network is combined and the cost savings alone will make for an improvement in results but they have yet to stop the exodus of customers to other providers. It is not the network issue(s) making them do it, it is the treatment they get when they call Sprint that is making them flee. Sprint's firing of customers was a PR fiasco and likely gave more than a few potential customers serious pause about joining Sprint. There are plenty of providers out there for people to choose from, having an adversarial relationship with them is not the way to grow. this is the reason they have fallen far behind rivals AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ).

Until that issue is fixed, any upside and real improvement for Sprint will be put off indefinitely.


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