Despite including results for the Palm Pre during an entire quarter, Sprint Nextel reported lower than expected third quarter earnings on Thursday morning. The carrier lost $478 million in the period, or 17 cents a share. Expectations were for a loss of 15 cents a share. In the three month period, wireless customers dropped by 545,000, almost double the 257,000 that left the wireless operator in the prior quarter. Including new subscribers, on a net basis Sprint lost 135,000 customers and that was the best net figure the carrier has reported in two years according to CEO Dan Hesse, "Sprint achieved its best net retail subscriber results in more thantwo years and improvement in both post-paid and prepaid grosssubscriber additions in the third quarter," Hesse said, "We expect to see sequential quarterly improvement in bothpost-paid and total net subscriber losses in the fourth quarter of2009." The nation's third largest cellular operator, Sprint will have to face a strong challenge by T-Mobile in the months ahead as the number 4 carrier has a new calling plan
, financed handsets and some hot new phones that together take aim at Sprint. At the end of the quarter, Sprint had 48.3 million wireless customers, trailing Verizon and AT&T, the nation's number one and two ranked carriers respectively.