- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

NEW YORK | A new $50 unlimited-calling plan sold under the Boost brand has been a badly needed success story for Sprint Nextel Corp., luring hundreds of thousands of new customers, by industry estimates.

But dealers and customers report widespread problems with texting on the Boost network. Messages are frequently delayed by hours, in many cases reaching their recipients early in the morning.

“That kind of kills the point of using the text messaging feature,” said Daniel Michael, a firefighter in Salisbury, N.C., who also works at a cell phone store. He and his wife signed up for Boost Mobile about the end of February, and use their phones to text their children, but often get delays of three or four hours.

“There’s a huge deficiency in the text messaging and multimedia messaging,” said John Kim, an independent dealer who has a Boost Mobile store in the Dallas area. He warns new customers about the problems, and tests the system by sending himself text messages.

“I got five text messages at 4 o’clock in the morning that I sent myself nine hours before,” he said.

He’s been signing up 10 to 12 new customers a day on the plan, three or four times the number that came in before the Boost Unlimited plan was introduced in January. But a lot of them come back, “very irritated” about the text messaging problems, he said.

“This trend of a lot of people signing up to Boost is going to disappear really quickly if they don’t resolve the texting issue,” Mr. Kim said.

The new Boost Mobile plan uses Sprint’s Nextel network, which uses a different underlying technology than the main Sprint network. Nextel users have complained of delayed text messaging for years, but the network’s main selling point has been the walkie-talkielike “push to talk” capability used by work crews and emergency responders. Now the new Boost plan has opened the network to a new category of customers, for whom text messaging is more important.

Boost spokesman John Votava said the texting problems are because of the influx of new customers and denied that there are long-standing problems with the Nextel network.

“The popularity of Boost Mobile caught us off guard. It overwhelmed our system,” he said. The company has been working “day and night” to fix the problems, and aims to have the system “much improved” by next week, Mr. Votava said.

Analysts expect Sprint to report Monday that Boost attracted about half a million subscribers in the first quarter, which would be a rare piece of good news for the company. The additions from Boost are not expected to outnumber defections from Sprint as a whole, however.

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