Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sprint to Spin off Nextel?

The Notable Calls blog reports a "curious" rumor that Sprint Nextel Corp. has hired Morgan Stanley and initiated director Ralph V. Whitworth's plan to spin-off Nextel, with a formal announcement possibly coming in two to four weeks. Some undoubtedly will say this is a mistake.

Others, including me, will argue that if the choice is to ditch Nextel or the Xohm WiMAX network, Nextel has to go. Sprint already has taken the hit and essentially written off the entire value of the Nextel acquisition.

If it spins off Nextel, Sprint reduces the complexity of running two separate networks, with two sets of consumer devices and support operations to support, as it builds yet a third network.

Once upon a time Nextel boasted the highed average revenue per user in the business. That isn't much of an argument these days as the ARPU difference now has narrowed almost to the point of insignificance.

True, Nextel's customer base always was weighted more heavily towards business users, which is valuable, but Sprint's churn problems are disproportionately related to Nextel, these days. In the right hands, with a management unburdened by the other distractions Sprint has, something can be done about Nextel.

But it won't be easy. Nextel is the only carrier running the iDEN air interface, and Motorola is a key handset supplier. The former issue means handset scale isn't going to be there, so device costs won't be easy to manage. And Motorola itself wants to get out of the handset business, but so far seems to be finding few takers.

Potential WiMAX suppliers, on the other hand, are potentially much larger, and Google is among the firms active in supporting Sprint's Xohm initiative. Sprint already has taken the accounting charge related to the Nextel acquisition.

Spinning Nextel off also will simplify the previously-announced plan to finally consolidate headquarters operations in Kansas City, instead of maintaining two separate headquarters operations, one in Reston, Va. and one in Kansas City.

It's only a rumor at this point. But Sprint has to take drastic steps. It cannot incrementally creep back to health.

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