SAN FRANCISCO — Sprint’s partnership with Clearwire didn’t give the company as much of a lead as expected in 4G services, but it was still a good move, Sprint Chief Executive Dan Hesse said at the Dive Into Mobile conference.
Host Walt Mossberg asked about the bet Sprint made on Clearwire’s WiMax technology, which is now being challenged by the LTE technology that Verizon and AT&T are rolling out over the next year.
The comments came a day after Sprint announced plans to upgrade its network over the next three to five years with multi-mode base stations that handle different technologies.
Hesse said Sprint made the Clearwire partnership at a time when it was short on capital and Clearwire had a technology that could be launched before LTE. An independent company like Clearwire could also raise money from partners such as Intel and Google.
“Even though at the time three years ago we were very cash constrained, it allowed us to hit the ground running … and be first with 4G,” he said.
Mossberg pressed Hesse on the value of that lead, which ended up being about a year before LTE arrived.
“It was clearly less than we thought it would be,” Hesse said, adding that it apparently pushed Verizon to speed its LTE rollout.
The two discussed unlimited data plans, which Hesse said he first introduced when he was at AT&T. Hesse said consumers like the simplicity of unlimited plans, even though they may end up costing more.
“Even though it would be in their economic best interest to go with the metered plan, they will go with the unlimited plan,” he said.
Yet unlimited plans aren’t completely unlimited. Sprint will cut off “abusers” who swamp the network, Hesse said.
Mossberg asked whether Sprint wants to carry the iPhone.
“Under the right terms and conditions the answer would be yes. There’s no question it’s a great device and Apple has a great brand,” Hesse said.
Hesse declined to comment on any possible alliance between T-Mobile and Clearwire, which is 54 percent owned by Sprint.
“I’m not aware of that, honestly,” Hesse said.
Last week a Goldman Sachs analyst, who had met with Hesse, said Sprint “indicated they have encouraged a wholesale deal” and thAT Sprint “would support a T-Mobile equity infusion into Clearwire,” according to a Bloomberg report.
Apparently the deal fell through because Clearwire decided to borrow $1.1 billion to continue funding its expansion.