Sprint CEO: ‘We will have the best network in the next two years

sprint ceo marcelo claure

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure has made a bold statement: By 2017, its network will perform better than Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile.

“We will have the best network in the next two years,” Claure told CNNMoney in an interview Friday.

That echoes comments Claure made in May, when he said Sprint would be among the “top two” in terms of overall network performance in the United States. Now, he is throwing down the gauntlet, saying Sprint will leapfrog all the competition.

The quality of Sprint’s network is improving — but it’s still not all that great. Sprint is currently in third place among the major four carriers, according to independent mobile network surveyor RootMetrics.

The carrier’s fastest median speed (17 megabits per second) was the slowest of the competition and half that of leader Verizon. Sprint was tied for the best overall network performance in just 7 of the 125 metropolitan areas RootMetrics measured, and it was the fastest network in just one city (Dayton, Ohio).

Though RootMetrics noted that Sprint tested much better in the first half of 2015 than it did in the last half of 2014, clearly Sprint still has a long way to go.

So how is it going to get to No. 1 so quickly?

Sprint (S) has the tools to do it — it’s always just been a question of using them the right way. After its 2013 purchase of mobile network Clearwire, Sprint is sitting on a boatload of wireless spectrum (the airwaves over which cellphone data travels). In fact, Sprint has more spectrum than any of its competitors.

“We have a big advantage over Verizon,” said Claure. “We have half their customers and twice the amount of spectrum.”

The problem is that Sprint’s spectrum is in a significantly higher range than where most cell signals broadcast. The lower the bandwidth, the easier it is for the airwaves to travel long distances and penetrate solid objects, such as walls and windows. That’s why T-Mobile paid more than $2 billion for a small chunk of Verizon’s low-range spectrum — it’s like beachfront property, compared to Sprint’s spectrum out in the boonies.

To take advantage of its spectrum, Claure says Sprint needs to deploy three times the amount of cell towers as Verizon. It’s expensive — but worth it in the end. That’s because Sprint’s spectrum has a trick up its sleeve: higher-range airwaves allow you to offer much higher speeds. Once Sprint completes its network overhaul, it’s not hard to imagine that it will be the fastest in the country.

Claure believes that network quality will help launch Sprint’s turnaround story that the company has been forecasting for years — but has yet to come to fruition

“We want 80% of markets to be number one or two in overall performance,” said Claure. “When that day that comes, it will be harder for Verizon (VZ, Tech30) and AT&T (T, Tech30) to compete, and we will be the big winner.”

Meanwhile, Sprint has slashed prices in order to stop some of the bleeding. It lost 3 million customers in two years, falling behind T-Mobile (TMUS) into last place in terms of subscribers.

The low-cost plans include the new “iPhone forever” deal, which allows customers to lease an iPhone for $15 a month and upgrade anytime a new iPhone debuts. Those deals have helped Sprint grow its customer base for the past several months.

“There’s not a lot of homework you have to do, Claure said. “With just some basic math, you’ll realize Sprint is best on price.”

How one high schooler made $80K (without getting a job)


abby saxastar
Abby Saxastar [center] earned $80,000 in guaranteed scholarship on Raise.me.
High schoolers can now earn money for college — no job required.

Startup Raise.me developed a program that allows high school students to start banking college scholarship money.

What’s the catch?

The money is tied to students’ individual achievements. The better they do in school, the more engaged they are with their communities, the more money they earn from Raise.me’s college partners.

There are 76 colleges on Raise.me’s platform, including Penn State, UMass and Tulane. Raise.me cofounder Preston Silverman hopes to increase that to 100 colleges by the end of the year.

As long as students meet the college’s GPA requirements, they can start earning money from as many as they choose — between $500 to $1,000 per achievement. Students don’t get the money until they are accepted to one of the colleges.

Related: This is how you make math fun

Abby Saxastar raised $80,000 on Raise.me, which will fully cover her tuition at Stetson University, a private college in central Florida.

“I’ve always been very successful in school and I’ve also done a lot of volunteer work,” said Saxastar. “But I still had to figure out how to pay for college.”

Saxastar learned about the program a few months before she graduated high school in June, but the program allows students to retroactively include information. So even as a senior, Saxastar could log her grades and activities for the past four years.

“My family is digging through some debt and taking out loans for my other expenses,” she said. “So getting this scholarship has been amazing.”

Related: The White House likes these colleges best

Saxastar is one of 60,000 students from 5,000 high schools who have signed up with Raise.me since it launched in August 2014. The startup has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Facebook (FB, Tech30).

Colleges committed a total of $1 billion in scholarships in the first year, but Silverman said there isn’t data on how much of this was actually paid out to students. The goal is to make scholarships available to students who may not otherwise pursue them.

“Most scholarships today are awarded at the very end of high school. It’s too late to influence a student’s college search and application process,” he said.

Silverman said colleges are on board because it helps them reach students much earlier in the selection process.

Related: Here’s the difference between you and the class of 2019

Beatriz Zayas is head counselor at the Southwest High School in El Centro, California, a city on the border with Mexico and Arizona. It’s a predominantly rural area, and 90% of the 2,100 students are Hispanic.

“A high percentage are from low-income families, but we’re hoping they will become first-generation college students,” said Zayas.

Raise.me could become a critical part of that. There are 60 students at Southwest currently enrolled in the program. Zayas said they opted to focus on a small International Baccalaureate class first, in order to provide the necessary support.

“It’s putting good colleges on the radar of families who wouldn’t have known about them otherwise,” she said.
southwest highschool

Although Raise.me doesn’t target a specific demographic, Silverman said 49% of students on the platform are from low-income families.

A few colleges, including Florida International University, are even offering scholarships specifically to these students.

The university plans to partner with Raise.me this year to target low-income Florida high schools.

“With many first-generation families, their socioeconomic barriers prevent them from taking advantage of a lot of things,” said Luisa Havens, vice president of enrollment services with Florida International University. “Raise.me is perfect way to give them access to opportunity.”

Taliban militants attack mosque at air force base in Pakistan, killing 29

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN)Militants raided an air force base Friday in northwest Pakistan, killing 29 people, including some who were praying inside a mosque, Pakistani military officials said.

The attack on the 10-acre Badaber base outside Peshawar is the largest assault on Pakistani military personnel this year. It’s the highest-profile assault in the area since terrorists killed 145, mostly children, during a school massacre last year.

When the militants attacked the base, security forces responded, eventually killing 14 attackers, Peshawar police official Shafquat Malik said.

The military side suffered several injuries, including an army major who was shot in the thigh, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa said.

Each of the attackers carried 2 kilograms of improvised explosives, plus hand grenades and an AK-47, Malik said.

The Pakistani Taliban, known in the country as Tehrik-i-Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The United States built Badaber Air Base in the 1950s. It was used as a listening post to intercept radio information from the Soviet Union.

GM settles criminal case over ignition switches

NEW YORK – General Motors (GM) admitted it failed to disclose to the public a deadly problem with small-car ignition switches as part of a $900 million deal reached with federal authorities to avoid criminal charges, authorities announced Thursday.

The automaker will retain an independent monitor to review and assess its policies to ensure compliance with the agreement with the government, according to court papers released by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan.

“They let the public down. It’s as simple as that,” Bharara said in a news conference. “To sum it up, they didn’t tell the truth in the best way that they should have – to the regulators, to the public – about this serious safety issue that risked life and limb.”

A U.S. District Court judge approved the settlement in New York on Thursday afternoon. Court papers pertaining to it were signed Wednesday.

Besides the $900 million forfeiture and the monitor, the deal calls for two criminal charges to be dismissed if the company complies with terms of the agreement for three years. The $900 million must be paid by Sept. 24.

The two-count criminal information accuses GM of wire fraud and scheming to conceal material facts from a government regulator.

Last year, GM recalled 2.6 million older small cars worldwide to replace the faulty switches. Those included the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion.

The faulty switches can unexpectedly slip out of the run position to off or accessory. That shuts off the engine and disables power-assisted steering, power brakes and the air bags.

The problem caused crashes that killed at least 124 people and injured 275 more, according to lawyers in charge of a fund set up by GM to compensate victims. Families of those who died will get at least $1 million. GM has set aside $625 million to compensate people who accept a settlement with the fund. GM also faces multiple lawsuits related to the problem.

The company acknowledged that some of its employees knew about the problem for more than a decade, but no cars were recalled until early last year. GM hired former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas to investigate the matter, and he found no wrongdoing on the part of top executives. Instead, he blamed the problem on a bureaucratic corporate culture that hid problems and failed to take action.

In December of 2003, 81-year-old Jean Averill was driving a 2004 Saturn Ion on a Connecticut street when her car left the road, striking a tree. The air bag did not deploy; she was knocked unconscious and died hours later at the hospital.

Averill’s family has been offered payment from the GM compensation fund but they say the amount is not enough punishment for the company’s decade long cover-up.

“They should be penalized,” her son, Mark Averill,told CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor in May. “People should go to jail.”

It was unclear if any individuals would be charged in the ignition switch probe. After the Valukas report was released, GM fired 15 employees including engineers and lawyers, for failing to act to resolve the switch problem.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Automotive Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group and frequent auto industry critic, said it appears that no GM employees will be charged.

“GM killed over a 100 people by knowingly putting a defective ignition switch into over 1 million vehicles,” he said. “Today thanks to its lobbyists, GM officials walk off scot-free while its customers are 6 feet under.”

Prosecutors likely chose to charge GM with wire fraud because the company used electronic communications to interact with the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency that it is required by law to notify when it finds out about a safety defect.

In May 2014, NHTSA levied a record civil penalty of $35 million against GM. It said the company violated federal law when it failed to notify the government of safety-related defects within five days of learning about them. NHTSA said GM also failed to respond in a timely manner to the government’s requests for information during its investigation of the defective switches.

The deal with GM comes roughly a year and a half after Toyota agreed to a $1.2 billion penalty from the Justice Department, admitting that it hid information about defects that caused Toyota and Lexus vehicles to accelerate unexpectedly and resulted in injuries and deaths. The Justice Department said at the time that it was the largest penalty of its kind ever imposed on an auto company.

GM’s fine was likely less than Toyota because the company cooperated with the investigation, according to legal analysts.

As the federal government announced its agreement, a separate development had General Motors saying it will pay $575 million to settle civil lawsuits filed over faulty small-car ignition switches.

The money will be used to settle 1,385 death and injury claims filed by a Texas lawyer.

The company says the money also will settle a class-action lawsuit filed by shareholders.

Attorney Bob Hilliard says a special master will be appointed to decide how much to offer each plaintiff he represents.

He says the lawsuits include 45 deaths. Hilliard says he’s confident the total sum is enough to settle all his cases. With the settlements, 454 death and injury cases remain. Six are scheduled for trial.

Obama announces re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties

Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama said Wednesday that it was past time for the U.S. to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba as he announced that the two countries were reopening their embassies after more than 50 years.

“When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone thought it would be more than half a century before it reopened,” he said in remarks from the White House Rose Garden.

Earlier Wednesday in Havana, a U.S. diplomat delivered a note from Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro restoring diplomatic ties.

The short ceremony at the Cuban Foreign Ministry in Havana ended 54 years of broken relations that began during the Eisenhower administration. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section, delivered the note.

READ: 10 questions about U.S.-Cuba relations

Castro also sent a letter to Obama.

“We want to develop a friendship between our two nations that is based on the equality of rights and the people’s free will,” Castro said in the letter, read on state-run TV.

He went on to say that Cuba hopes to resolve differences with the United States through peaceful means, that each nation must respect the territorial integrity of the other and they should not interfere in each other’s political affairs.

However, the Cuban Foreign Ministry indicated that hurdles still remained in the thaw of U.S.-Cuba relations due to the embargo that the U.S. has imposed on Cuba.

“There could be no normal relations between Cuba and the United States as long as the economic, commercial and financial blockade continues to be fully implemented, causing damage and scarcities to the Cuban people,” reads a statement received by CNN. “The blockade is the main obstacle to the development of our economy; it is a violation of International Law and affects the interests of all countries, including those of the United States.”

Obama has relaxed several of the prohibitions on trade and travel that have existed between the two countries, but many remain in place and can only be removed by legislation.

Obama called Wednesday for Congress to lift the embargo that prevents Cubans from traveling or doing business in Cuba.

U.S. and Cuba to open embassies

U.S. and Cuba to open embassies 01:36

“Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward. I believe it’s time for Congress to do the same,” he said. “We’ve already seen members from both parties begin that work.”

Reaction on Capitol Hill

But Congress, controlled by Republicans, has shown little sign that it intends to end the embargo. Several GOP candidates for President expressed their opposition to the shift in policy.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was quick to criticize Obama’s move to reopen embassies.

“It’s unacceptable and a slap in the face of a close ally that the United States will have an embassy in Havana before one in Jerusalem,” tweeted Cruz, who is seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

In a statement, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio vowed to oppose the confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba until the Castro regime makes several concessions, including “securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people.”

And former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the Cuban government had made no changes that suggest re-engagement would benefit Cuban citizens.

“The Cuban people today are not any freer politically or economically, and President Obama has failed to account for what the Castro regime has done in the last several years that warrants such an enormous shift in a longstanding U.S. policy,” he said.

But Obama also has supporters on Capitol Hill.

Democratic Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen quickly put out a statement saying that the U.S. and Cuba working together was the only way to address concern about Cuba’s behavior.

READ: Barack Obama and Raul Castro meet, launch new era of U.S.-Cuba ties

“These decisions will also help promote human rights and freedom in a country where we have had little influence for too long,” he said. “I am proud of the quick, but no doubt difficult, work our President has done to chart a new course in our relationship with Cuba, and I wholeheartedly support his efforts to tear down the walls that separate us.”

In his Rose Garden speech, which was carried live on Cuba’s state-run Cubavision network, Obama noted that many Cubans have called for increased U.S. engagement with their country, and said it was time to look toward the future.

“You can’t hold the future of Cuba hostage to what happened in the past,” Obama said, quoting a Cuban resident.

The President agreed, pointing out that the Eisenhower administration had severed ties with Cuba in the same year that Obama had been born.

“You don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” he said. “If something isn’t working, we can and will change.”

But after his announcement, protesters in Miami spoke out against the move, indicating at least some pockets of the Cuban community are not supportive of his policy.

Obama also said that working more closely with Cuba will allow the U.S. to address human rights issues that go against America’s policies.

“We will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values,” Obama said. Critics, however, have expressed doubt on that score.

Cuban reporter makes history at White House briefing

Cuban reporter makes history at White House briefing 05:14

The next steps

Diplomatic relations will be officially re-established on July 20, according to a statement from the Cuban Foreign Ministry. The country will also open its embassy in Washington that day.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced from Vienna Wednesday that he will travel to Cuba this summer to take part in the formal reopening of the U.S. Embassy. It will be the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state since 1945.

He called the move “an important step on the road to restoring fully normal relations between the United States and Cuba,” adding that “coming a quarter of a century after the Cold War, it recognizes the reality of the changed circumstances and it will serve to meet a number of practical needs.”

Kerry acknowledged that the United States and Cuba continue to have “sharp differences over democracy, human rights and related issues,” but added that the two countries have identified areas for cooperation that will include law enforcement, transportation, emergency response, environmental protection, telecommunications and migration.

The opening of embassies is the culmination of Obama’s initiative to thaw relations begun in December. Travel restrictions have been loosened since that time and some new economics ties have been established. The U.S. removed Cuba from its state sponsors of terror list in May.