Sprint preps for $20 billion facelift

Sprint lost $1.3 billion and a lot of subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2012. But big changes are in store for the company. 

People walk past a Sprint store in New York in this Dec. 17 file photo. Sprint Nextel, which is seeking to sell 70 percent of its shares to Japan's SoftBank, lost subscribers in Q4 of 2012.

Sprint Nextel, the third largest carrier in the US behind AT&T and Verizon, posted a loss of $1.3 billion in the fourth quarter of last year, the company announced today. In addition, Sprint Nextel continued to lose subscribers at a worrying rate: 243,000 contract customers jumped ship last quarter, according to the Wall Street Journal, more than the 229,000 predicted by some analysts. 

Kansas-based Sprint Nextel is very much a company in transition. In coming months, Sprint will likely merge with the the cash-rich Japanese company Softbank, in a deal that would give Sprint $20 billion in cash and Softbank a 70 percent stake in Sprint. (The US Justice Department is currently evaluating the proposed merger between Sprint and Softbank, Bloomberg recently reported.)

In addition, Sprint is jettisoning both the Nextel name and the Nextel platform, which used Integrated Digital Enhanced Network, or iDEN, technology. 

"The changes represent a massive identity shift for Sprint, and one that brings hope and optimism to the company and its leadership," Roger Cheng of CNET writes today. "Sprint, which has long struggled to juggle both networks while attempting to turn around several quarters of losses and customer defections, may finally be turning a corner with the big changes set to take effect in the coming months."

Still, Sprint faces a long uphill climb before it can catch its competitors: Verizon and AT&T both have well upward of 100 million subscribers, while Sprint has only about 56 million. 

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