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Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 07:33 am PT (10:33 am ET)

Sprint sold 1.5M iPhones in March quarter, but lost 560,000 customers

Sales of Apple's iPhone were down at Sprint, as America's third-largest wireless carrier lost more than a half-million subscribers last quarter, but still posted returns that beat Wall Street's estimates.

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Even with the loss of 560,000 subscribers from January through March, Sprint's losses in the quarter narrowed and the carrier lost $643 million, whereas it lost $863 million in the same quarter last year. At the end of the quarter, Sprint had 31.3 million customers on contract paying an average of $61.47 per month.

Apple's iPhone actually brought in a considerable number of new customers, Sprint said, with 43 percent of iPhone customers being new to the carrier, compared with 38 percent in the holiday quarter.

In the previous quarter, the 2.2 million iPhone units Sprint moved accounted for more than 50 percent of the carrier's smartphone sales. This past quarter, though, Sprint's 1.5 million iPhone sales made up just 30 percent of the five million total smartphone units sold.

The iPhone represents a substantial investment on Sprint's part, as the company committed $15.5 billion over four years to subsidizing the cost of the device beginning in 2011. That expenditure to this day impacts the carrier's bottom line, though Sprint expects to make up for the cost over time with subscriber revenue.

Sprint shares have more than tripled over the past ten months, as the carrier is now at the center of a bidding war. Late last year, Japan's Softbank made a $20 billion bid for Sprint, which would see it taking a 70 percent stake in the company. More recently, though, Dish Network proposed a $25.5 billion merger with Sprint, which would create a hybrid company offering television, home Internet, wireless Internet, and voice.