Will Sprint Get Back On Track This Week?

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"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
-- "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, 1920

Sprint Nextel (NYS: S) reports first-quarter earnings on Wednesday morning. Fellow telecom Verizon Communications (NYS: VZ) posted a fine quarter last week but AT&T (NYS: T) is staring down an unimpressive, flat report come Tuesday morning. The larger rivals walk down different roads; which one will Sprint follow this time?

Analysts expect nothing short of a disaster. Net losses should jump to $0.41 per share, far worse than the $0.15 per-share loss seen a year ago. Sales should improve 4.9% year over year to $8.7 billion, but I'll bet most investors would trade in sales growth for stronger profits any day of the week.


The company is currently in hot water over alleged tax fraud as the Attorney General for the state of New York seeks $300 million in damages. Sprint says that the lawsuit is "without merit," but the accusation alone brought an already-depressed share price down by another few percentage points.

In other news, Sprint has given up on its planned partnership with LightSquared, the innovative satellite-plus-towers wireless data service that couldn't overcome its harmful effects on radio waves assigned to GPS receivers. Instead, Clearwire (NAS: CLWR) remains the preferred 4G network partner for now while Sprint also builds out a 4G LTE network all its own.

Sprint has launched exactly one LTE-capable handset so far, and even that one falls back to 3G speed pretty much anywhere you use it today. But early reports say that the LTE-equipped Samsung Galaxy Nexus sold through pre-order inventories in a matter of days anyhow.

Other Sprint phones run on Clearwire's competing WiMAX networking standard. And don't forget that you can buy the Galaxy Nexus from Verizon too -- with a fully functional LTE network up and running right now. So it seems like Sprint still has a healthy supply of committed fans who are willing to hold out for a full-speed network in exchange for a high-end handset.

That spot of good news is largely overshadowed by Sprint's larger challenges, though. The company doesn't have the scale to compete effectively with Ma Bell and Verizon, and the neverending struggle to come up with a suitable next-generation network doesn't help at all. Today's tribute to National Poetry Month is often seen as a positive ode to the road less traveled by, but Sprint investors can attest to a different reading: The difference leaves our narrator sighing with regrets.

As gloomy as the Street's projections are for this quarter, I still think they may be too optimistic. My thumbs-down CAPScall on this stock stays firmly in place this week. The real winners of the smartphone boom can be found elsewhere.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundholds no position in any of the companies mentioned. Check outAnders' holdings and bio, or follow him onTwitterandGoogle+. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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