Sprint seems stuck in a holding pattern, pondering what to do next while it watches its smaller competitors join forces and its larger competitors fade into the distance. While a reasonable amount of pondering is certainly prudent, a time to refocus one’s efforts to best grow its brand, Sprint seems to be perpetually locked in this state; caught in a constant decision-making loop that has left America’s third largest wireless carrier languid and hesitant about the future.
In fact, while Sprint continues to roll-out its own 4G LTE network—a late-comer to this party because of its woefully inept bet on Clearwire WiMax technology—and while its one of the wireless carriers to offer Apple’s popular iPhone, the company seems to have no clue how to use these assets to grow and develop its brand, seemingly content to maintain the status quo in its well-worn comfort zone.
Its obvious to me that Sprint is simply gun-shy, knowing that it can ill-afford to make mistakes like Nextel and Clearwire again. But as the old adage states, if you’re not going forwards, you’re going backwards, meaning that if Sprint continues to play it safe, it’ll soon find itself on the downward slide towards irrelevance.
Now don’t get me wrong, as one who has covered the American wireless market for several years now I have a particular affinity for Sprint, seeing it as the best choice for those who like me will do almost anything to avoid faceless uncaring behemoths like Verizon and AT&T.
As I’ve watched the company weather some serious struggles over the past several years, I have grown to appreciate the leadership of CEO Dan Hesse, who unlike many of his market counterparts, seems to have his head set firmly on this shoulders. But of course such effusive praise makes Sprint’s current predicament that much more difficult, as its hard to pinpoint exactly who’s fault it all is.
Truthfully, while Hesse’s level headed leadership has certainly provided Sprint with much needed stability following its Nextel struggles over the past several years, it truly seems that Sprint’s inability to grow and develop may lie, at least in part, at Hesse’s feet. While clearly a gifted leader, he may not have the skill set to actually grow a company, meaning while it’s clear that he got Sprint back on the track, he may not have the ability to get the train moving.
That said, Sprint’s board of directors needs to change its outlook as well. It’s clear to me that the company is suffering from a serious fear of failure. Given that its Nextel experiment is quickly coming to its inglorious conclusion and that it notably backed the Beta-Max of wireless technologies by investing heavily in Clearwire’s WiMax, the board seems unwilling to gamble again, seemingly content to watch T-Mobile acquire MetroPCS while unwilling to explore similar options.
In the end, Sprint needs to accept the fact that it’s made mistakes, learn from them, and continue to move forward. As eCommerce Times’ Jeff Kagan writes, “The bottom line is companies need to be able to negotiate the churning waters with positive messages and growth strategies. Some will work and others will fail. That’s life. You can’t fail unless you stop trying, and unfortunately that is what we see Sprint doing right now.”