KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Sprint Nextel Corp., the nation's third-largest wireless service provider, on Monday reported a larger first-quarter loss on declining revenue and a charge for job cuts announced in January.
Sprint continued to lose subscribers but far fewer than it did in the last three months of 2008. The improvement, however, reflected a sharp increase in prepaid customers while the number of subscribers who sign up for annual contracts and are more valuable to Sprint fell.
Not including one-time charges for severance and other job-cutting costs, Sprint said it would have lost 3 cents per share, a penny less than analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had predicted.
The company said it recorded a $327 million charge for severance and other costs connected with its announcement in January that is planned to cut 8,000 jobs.
Revenue declined 12 percent to $8.21 billion from $9.3 billion and below analysts' expectation of $8.28 billion.
Sprint said it lost a net of 182,000 subscribers, a marked improvement from the company's fourth quarter, when it lost 1.3 million. However, the company said it lost 1.25 million valuable postpaid customers who sign annual contracts, an increase from the 1.1 million loss of that market in the fourth quarter.
Making up most of the difference were net gains of 764,000 prepaid customers on its iDEN network and 394,000 wholesale and affiliate subscribers.
Most of the iDEN increase came from Sprint's low-cost Boost Mobile prepaid subsidiary, which in February began offering unlimited calling, texting and data services for $50 a month. Unlike postpaid customers, prepaid subscribers don't sign contracts and generally generate less revenue.
The company said the increase in wholesale customers came from its push to use its wireless bandwidth in new markets, including Amazon.com, which uses Sprint's network to download products to customers' Kindle e-book readers.
Total churn, which measures the percentage of customers starting and stopping service, was 2.25 percent during the quarter, down from 2.45 percent a year ago but up from 2.16 percent in the fourth quarter. The company said most of the sequential increase was due to deactivations among business customers but the year-over-year improvement was because of efforts to improve the credit profile of its customers.
Revenue from the company's remaining wireline operations, which largely are used for Internet connections, fell 10 percent to $1.47 billion.
Looking ahead, Sprint said it expected an increasing number of consumers will favor cheaper prepaid service to postpaid service because of the economy. But the company said it still believed annual subscriber losses would be smaller in 2009 than the 4.6 million lost in 2008.