Cost of 4G LTE upgrade, iPhone help send Sprint’s stock tumbling

iPhone 4 with Sprint LogoSprint‘s stock price fell another 8 percent in early trading today after a variety of Wall Street brokerage houses downgraded the company’s market outlook due to worries that Sprint would not have enough free cash flow to pay for debts over the next two years, reports Reuters. Today’s stock price drop follows a 20 percent dip on Friday.

Currently the third largest wireless provider in the US, Sprint told investors on Friday that it needs to raise new capital in order to update its network to 4G LTE over the next two years. During the same period, the company is also expected to face significant costs from subsidizing sales of Apple’s iPhone.

While the addition of the iPhone to Sprint’s lineup is widely seen as a step in the right direction, the move is quite a gamble for the company, which just became the newest carrier to offer Apple’s coveted handset. Last week, it was revealed that Sprint paid about $20 billion to purchase at least 30.5 million iPhone units from Apple over the next four years.

So far, Sprint’s wager is starting to pay off. The company sold out of the $199 (16GB) version of the new iPhone 4S this weekend, tho both the $299 and $399 versions were still available via its online store at the time of this writing. Both Verizon and AT&T also offer the iPhone 4S.

To stay competitive with Verizon Wireless and AT&T, Sprint must also upgrade its network to offer faster 4G LTE service. Sprint currently only offers WiMAX 4G, but it is LTE that is quickly becoming the industry standard for 4G. Verizon currently offers 4G LTE in the most areas, and AT&T recently began to roll out its LTE network. Market analysts expect that Sprint must raise as much as $3.5 billion to pay for its 4G LTE expansion.

As it stands now, Sprint remains a wild card for investors. If the company is able to bridge the gaps in its finances over the next two years, investors who purchase the stock at its current low price should see a significant profit.

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