Sprint Is Least-Loved Carrier, Says Consumer Reports

Sprint, second behind Verizon Wireless last year, fell to dead last in Consumer Reports' latest annual wireless service ratings. 

Sprint, midway through an overhaul, has said things are likely to get worse before they get better, and Consumer Reports has found that to be the case. In its annual consumer survey on cell phone service ratings, Sprint fell to the bottom of the list, Consumer Reports announced Nov. 21.

"While it trailed only Verizon in overall customer satisfaction," the consumer group said in a statement, "Sprint received dismal marks this year for value, voice, text and 4G reliability."

Verizon once again topped the list, receiving high marks for data service and, to a limited degree, its customer support.

While AT&T and T-Mobile outperformed Sprint, their performance was nonetheless "ho-hum," said the report, though AT&T did receive the highest rating for the reliability of its 4G service and was the only carrier to do so.

As in past surveys, pre-paid, no-contract carriers tended to receive higher ratings than the tier-one carriers, which Consumer Reports explained was likely due to the prepaid carriers' simpler, more consumer-friendly plans.

Consumer Cellular was the "overall leader" in the satisfaction survey, with "stellar scores across the board," said the report, despite the fact that it operates on the same network as AT&T, which received a lower rating.

"Our latest cell service satisfaction survey revealed a somewhat precipitous decline by Sprint that shuffled the rankings of the major standard service providers," Glenn Derene, leader of Consumer Reports' Electronics Content Development team, said in a statement. "And smaller, no-frills, no-contract and prepaid service providers continue to do a better job of satisfying customers, and provide an increasingly viable alternative to some of the expensive, long-term contracts that many consumers find themselves locked into."

The survey also found that consumers with data plans tend to overpay for what they're using—38 percent of those surveyed used only half, or less, of their monthly allotments.

On a related, if opposite, note, Ericsson's latest mobility report has forecast that more of us will soon be using far more data. By 2019, the average smartphone user is expected to send 5 exabytes of data every two weeks—which is enough data, it's commonly said, to store all the words ever spoken by human beings.

Sprint's Brick House

During Sprint's third-quarter earnings call Oct. 30, CEO Dan Hesse acknowledged all the work that's under way—the tearing down of the Nextel network, the building out of Sprint's Long Term Evolution (LTE) network, its merger with Softbank and its takeover of Clearwire—and likened Sprint's progress as finally being on the "last little pig's brick house."

He added, "We're finally turning a corner on this massive project and seeing light at the end of the tunnel."

But with still more construction dust to clear, Hesse also acknowledged that churn—the number of customers leaving Sprint—is likely to "remain elevated" for several more quarters to come.

After the call, Sprint released a statement introducing Sprint Spark, a new technology with the potential, Sprint said in a statement, "to surpass the wireless speeds of any U.S. network provider." Downloading an HD television show, for example, Sprint said, takes 60 minutes over 3G and 35 minutes over 4G, but will take only 2.5 minutes on Sprint Spark.

Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Tampa are the first to receive limited access to Spark, but Sprint expects to cover 100 million Americans with the technology by 2014, offering a "flawless data experience."

Consumers, as ever, will be the judge of that.

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