updated 3/7/2005 9:23:43 PM ET 2005-03-08T02:23:43

Eugene Hoskins had heard getting his cell phone fixed could take a few days.

So when he stopped at a Sprint Corp. store in Kansas City last week, he left pleasantly surprised after an onsite technician took just 10 minutes to replace his broken antenna.

"I thought I would just get the part, but they said they could do it," said Hoskins, 55, as a technician in a glassed-in repair bay popped out the broken antenna and screwed in a new one.

As part of a larger redesign of Sprint Corp.'s 800 retail locations, the Overland Park, Kan.-based telecommunications company plans to have in-store repair shops in place at more than half of its stores by the middle of March.

In no more than couple hours and for $50 or less, Sprint technicians can fix everything from a broken antenna or hinge to a cracked LCD screen. They are the kind of repairs that would otherwise require the customer to leave the phone for several days so it could be sent to a centralized shop, or being given a replacement phone that needed to be reprogrammed.

Sprint is the only cell phone carrier with plans to open dedicated repair facilities at its retail locations, although most other carriers said they can also handle routine repairs at their stores.

Sprint officials said they decided to provide the repair service because statistics show Sprint customers use their cell phones more often than customers of other companies. According to technology research firm The Yankee Group, the average Sprint customer uses his or her phone between 16 and 17 hours a month.

Customers of T-Mobile USA Inc. are next at an average of 15 hours a month.

"You can imagine someone who relies on their phone for communication, either personal or for their business, and how they would have to wait," said Jim Mickey, vice president of Sprint store management. "They didn't want a replacement phone. The main goal was if we could keep them in their phone, they'll be happier."

The move also helps reduce the headache and expense of processing returns. Sprint aimed the repair shops at locations that generated four out of every five returns, Mickey said. The company isn't saying how much the repairs shops cost or how much they may save the company in return processing.

The repair shops can handle everything up to problems on the phone's circuitry or repairs requiring soldering, Mickey said. In those cases, if still covered under warranty, the customer receives a new phone.

Verizon Wireless and Nextel Communications Corp. say they can do light repairs in their stores, such as Hoskins' broken antenna. More serious problems would require the customer exchanging the phone for a replacement.

Cingular Wireless LLC and T-Mobile say they don't do repairs in their stores, instead asking customers to call a toll-free number and have a new phone shipped to them. Both companies' phones save the customers' phone book and other preferences on a chip, which the customer can then slip into the new phone.

Cingular, in fact, said it was phasing out what repair shops it had.

"Part of the reason is the plethora of new phones on the market today; it's very difficult for these stores to have a full supply of these phones and parts," said spokesman Clay Owen. "It's more efficient for the customer to call the toll-free number."

Sprint officials said their repair shops are able to handle repairs for 10 models of Sprint phones and are in the process of being certified for several more.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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