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Sprint's CEO: The iPad Has Been Good to Us

It might not be selling iPads in its stores like rivals AT&T and Verizon, but Sprint is benefiting from brisk demand for Apple's hot new device regardless.Dan Hesse, chief executive of the third-largest carrier in the U.S., told me in an interview that most iPads sold are of the Wi-Fi variety, and as a result the company has seen an uptick in demand for its Overdrive (3G/4G) MiFi wireless-hotspot device, as people use it to connect their iPads to the Internet when on the go.

What about the iPhone? After all, iPad and iPhone seem to go hand in hand. When I joked with Hesse about how (unlike every other U.S. wireless company) his company wasn't publicly linked to the iPhone, he declined to comment and politely added that Sprint doesn't comment on its relationship with vendors and the conversations it has with third parties.

Instead of iPhones

For now, the Overland Park (Kan.) wireless carrier is betting on two major smartphone platforms: BlackBerry and Android. HTC Evo and Samsung Epic are two of its Android-powered 3G/4G devices, and Hesse said he has high hopes for a new clamshell BlackBerry Style. So far the availability of these smartphones has helped the company turn the corner, and for the second quarter in a row add new post-paid subscribers and show a nice bump in revenue, although the company registered losses for the most recent quarter.

When I asked Hesse if smartphones were the key to his company's turnaround, he pointed out that—in order of importance—customer experience (which includes a great network and support), a simple value proposition, and then the devices themselves are going to be the key to Sprint's future.

"Smartphones [are] part of a bigger value proposition, because you need to have a network that can support that smartphone," he said. Sprint is offering WiMAX-based service it calls 4G in 55 cities and will launch in new markets, such as San Francisco, relatively soon.

Hesse told me that in the most recent quarter, nearly 60 percent of devices sold (or upgraded) for use on their CDMA network were smartphones, and as of now, 45 percent of Sprint customers (excluding non-Sprint brands) have a smartphone. By the end of 2010, half of Sprint customers will have smartphones, he added, and quipped: "They are very mainstream."

Part II of my conversation with Hesse will appear soon and will focus on Clearwire, LTE, and related topics.

Also from GigaOM:

How Apple Cracked the Top 5 in Global Handsets

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The $20M Club: 10 Well-Funded Cloud Startups

Om Malik is founder and senior writer of GigaOM. Before launching his own publishing venture, he was a senior writer for Business 2.0 magazine covering telecom and broadband stories.

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