Sprint Nextel lowers mobile-to-mobile pricing

Thursday, September 10, 2009 | 4:34 p.m. CDT; updated 5:52 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 10, 2009

KANSAS CITY — Intensifying competition in wireless pricing, Sprint Nextel Corp. will offer unlimited domestic calls to other mobile phones regardless of the recipient's service provider.

Sprint's competitors typically limit unlimited calling to other subscribers on a particular network or "calling circles" of specific people. Otherwise, any minutes used will be taken from the plan's free monthly allotment.

"We don't think our customers want to have to keep track of or only talk to friends, colleagues or family members who make the same choices they do," Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said in a statement.

Sprint, the nation's third-largest wireless provider, is desperate to attract and retain subscribers, millions of whom have flocked in the recent years to competitors because of customer service issues, technical glitches and high-profile devices elsewhere — namely Apple Inc.'s iPhone, sold through AT&T Inc.

Wireless carriers, facing a shrinking number of consumers who don't already have cell service, have been increasingly using price to pull subscribers from one another. Developing plans that revolve around wireless-to-wireless calls as more people drop landline service could offer additional incentive for people to go completely wireless.

Sprint will offer its "Any Mobile, Anytime" plans starting at $69.99 per month. At that price, users get 450 monthly minutes to landline phones, along with unlimited texting and other data services. For $89.99 a month, a subscriber can boost landline calling to 900 minutes. International calls aren't included, and calls made while roaming outside the plan's standard service territory would be charged against landline minutes.

Existing customers who already have the unlimited data plans are getting the Any Mobile, Anytime feature added automatically at no extra cost.

Sprint already offers unlimited calling to any wireless or landline phone for $99 a month as part of its "Simply Everything" plan, which also includes unlimited texting and data. It also offers a $50 unlimited calling and data option for customers of its Boost Mobile prepaid subsidiary, which serves subscribers who don't sign annual contracts.

The market leaders, Verizon Wireless and AT&T, have unlimited calling plans near the $100 mark and several prepaid carriers have sought to match the Boost offer.

Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett said in a research note that Verizon and AT&T are unlikely to immediately cut their prices to compete with Sprint but might expand their mobile-to-mobile features.

"At the end of the day we doubt that today's action will have a material effect on Sprint's market position," he wrote, adding that Sprint might see some current $99 customers switch to the cheaper plan.

Still, Moffett said Sprint's move will likely increase pressure in the wireless industry to continue lowering prices, which will ultimately hurt profits.

Neither Verizon nor AT&T immediately returned a phone message.

Shares in Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint were up 10 cents, or 2.7 percent, to close Thursday at $3.78.


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