It’s good to be a student: Sprint offers 1 year of free service with phone purchase

Students may grumble about homework, but I can’t see how they can bemoan the latest Sprint(s s) promotion: The carrier is providing one year of free talk, text and data service with any phone purchased at Best Buy(s bbuy) through January 4, 2014; even an iPhone(s aapl). The deal doesn’t just apply to the collegiate type either, as it’s good for any part- or full-time student in a U.S.-based elementary school, middle school, high school, college, university or other accredited institute.

Although the deal is called the Unlimited, My Way Student Promotion, data is actually limited to 1 GB per month on Sprint’s network. However, students can pay $10 a month to get truly unlimited data.

The new deal, spotted by The Verge, may sound aggressive; after all, that yearly data plan is costing Sprint hundreds of dollars per student in potentially lost revenue. But Sprint has to be aggressive, or it runs the risk of losing the no. 3 U.S. carrier spot to T-Mobile(s tmus).

Unfortunately for Sprint, an early strategic move to create a WiMAX network starting in 2008 never delivered on its promise. Instead, other carriers waited a little longer and opted for much faster LTE service, which is more prominently used around the world. That bet cost Sprint over time because WiMAX coverage was spotty in areas, leaving customers with a bad taste for the carrier. As a result, Sprint is now trying to get its LTE network up and running as quickly as possible, using several different spectrum frequencies.

Of course, non-paying customers don’t really help boost revenues in the short-term. So all Sprint can gain here is a higher total number of subscribers. But for students who can accept Sprint’s network limitations as compared to other carriers, this offers the carrier a year to continue beefing up its network. And when that free year is up, students could potentially turn into happy paying customers.