First of all I don't subscribe to the massive advertising hype that says over and over and over that getting insanely "fast" network "speeds" (the last time I checked, c is the same no matter the brand) is a life-or-death matter. I've been satisfied with Sprint's data rates in general. Even when my MicroTAC's 19.2 kbps serial modem adapter was put to use when my phone service went out, that was roughly 2/3rds of the ~30 kbps that my dial-up modem gave me back before DSL arrived in my neighborhood.
The thing is that I just don't download the huge files to my phone, or do anything that really calls for extreme throughput. I know people who browse content-rich websites all day long on their phones' tiny screens, and I think they're daffy.
I've been quite satisfied with Sprint's EVDO Rel.0 and Rev.A data devices when I used them. Of course I chose the Sierra Wireless models that have the all-important antenna jack. It would be foolish to try to use the tiny radios from inside cars without a proper rooftop antenna. That's just common sense.
There's no denying that Sprint's big folly was to go all-in on WiMAX instead of building out their CDMA2000 plant. To be fair, everybody was drubbing WiMAX as the heir apparent to the mobile data crown. Sometimes the best choice just doesn't win. That doesn't explain the on again, off again relationship with WiMAX partner Clearwire or cutting their losses when it became apparent that WiMAX couldn't meet its claims.
Here in Madison our home-town ILEC, TDS, has been trying to make its WiMAX plant work, and finally gave up a few months ago. One interesting thing I noticed was that they insisted that their WiMAX customers use rooftop antennas. Not on their cars, on their houses! Apparently the 802.11 version that was made from the ground up for high speeds (as in cars on a highway) couldn't cut it at 0 MPH. Sprint must have known that, but wasted at least three years while the competition moved to OOB technology, if only to keep up with the CDMA providers' EVDO data rates.
Now that cellphone data use has exploded, the unlimited (in-band) channel assignment to data streams that made EVDO king in the '00s has Sprint scrambling to add capacity (and no doubt to sometimes throttle) their now-obsolete in-band data service that they can't give up because successful WiMAX users are few and far between. Yes, Sprint has been in a pickle, and for way too long. And there's no end in sight.
The problem is spectrum. On one hand, Sprint/Clearwire's data frequencies in a nice big chunk, that should give them an enviable advantage, and might have given them a jump on the competition. On the other, we have Clearwire. As David Bowie put it "I'm stuck with a valuable friend". Sprint can't repurpose that prime bandwidth to LTE because Clearwire is still using them for WiMAX. Sprint can't afford to pay off Clearwire, which is what they are hoping for. And they have nothing to lose because they're moribund as it stands. Boy, wouldn't it be great if some bank would open up its big fat wallet and invest on what could be a great comeback!
A lot of Sprint's competition is heavily invested in LTE, and have some of it up working now. But they're heavily invested in some very costly 700MHz spectrum licenses that I believe are going to cause all kinds of problems when it comes to trying to fit a very long wavelength in PCS phone dimensions into those tiny PCS phones. I predict that early adopters of the new 700MHz phones will suffer from some pretty severe reception problems. The 700MHz licensees will probably try to kludge up a fix, and then end up dumping their 700MHz band licenses at fire sale prices to the fixed terrestrial wireless data providers.
Some smart investor could make a bundle by making Sprint the first all-IP cellular provider, using LTE and VoIP for data and telephony. That would be fitting, since the original Sprint company was the first long distance company (remember them?) to go all-digital.