In Short

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Sprint is the nation's third-largest wireless carrier, albeit by a small margin over T-Mobile at this point. One of the cornerstones of Sprint's business model is being one of the few carrier options that offers "truly unlimited" data, though 2013 saw Sprint cut down many of its plans to tiered and capped data in order to offer lower prices. As other carriers began to move to shared data plans among devices on the same account, Sprint has stuck with the standard model of each device having its own data plan, along with the ability to group into a traditional family plan or new referral-based "Framily" plan.

In a deal that eventually closed in mid-2013, Japanese carrier SoftBank purchased just over 72 percent of Sprint for a total of $21.6 billion in an effort to enter the U.S. wireless market and turn Sprint back around into a profitable and growing carrier. In conjunction with the buyout, Sprint also finalized its purchase of Clearwire, which was a required action as part of the SoftBank investment.

Sprint was very late to the party in rolling out LTE to the country, and is still in the midst of keeping the network stable and fast through its "Network Vision" tower upgrade plan. Part of this is due to the time, money and tower space that was until recently dedicated to its legacy WiMax and Nextel iDEN push-to-talk networks, the latter of which was finally shut down in 2013. Sprint has worked as quickly as possible to repurpose its spectrum holdings — which are almost all in the higher and less desirable bands — to provide faster data services. It primarily operates on the 800, 1900 and 2500MHz bands, even combining the three to provide higher throughput with its "Spark" LTE service on certain devices.

Even with the big money investment from SoftBank and the constantly-improving network situation on its hands, Sprint is still struggling to gain customers quarter-over-quarter. At the current pace of customer loss and acquisition, Sprint could be overtaken by T-Mobile as the third-place carrier in the U.S. in number of subscribers in just a couple of short years. That is, if SoftBank doesn't pull together the money to buy out T-Mobile itself.