Sprint's wholesale customers can have other 4G devices made to offer their subscribers, but those would need to be approved by Sprint, Votava said. This is consistent with other MVNO arrangements, he said. More than other major U.S. carriers, Sprint has long made its network available wholesale to third parties, offering just minutes and data capacity or all aspects of a service, including billing and other back-end functions.
Sprint and Clearwire, which is majority-owned by Sprint, face growing 4G competition from Verizon Wireless and AT&T but continue to gain subscribers for the older WiMax service. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said last Thursday that the company had sold 1.7 million 4G devices in the second quarter. Clearwire reported subscriber growth of 1.8 million in the first quarter, reaching a total of 6.15 million, and is due to report its second-quarter results on Wednesday.
The impact of Sprint's new wholesale offering may not be very big, analyst Gold said, because the MVNO business has proved difficult for many of the small players that have tried it. Several such carriers shut down in the last decade, and Sprint recently acquired one of its major MVNOs, Virgin Mobile. Profit margins are small and targeting specific communities hasn't always worked out well, Gold said. One Sprint wholesale customer, Mitel, is already offering the Sierra Wireless 3G/4G data card to its customers.