Adding new customers never seemed easier for at least some U.S. wireless providers. This week,
(TMUS) released preliminary subscriber numbers for the fourth quarter of 2018, and both blew past Wall Street’s expectations.
Verizon announced that it had added a net 1.2 million postpaid subscribers last quarter, compared with the 800,000 net new subscribers that analysts had been expecting. Of those, 650,000 were new phone lines, versus 356,000 expected.
“We’re seeing more lines per account,” Verizon Wireless President Ronan Dunne said at the Citi TMT West investor conference on Tuesday. “We’re seeing more people taking connected devices, whether that be watches, whether that be more tablets and other things. … [There’s overall] growth in the industry, and I think we’re taking at least, if not more, than our fair share.”
Dunne also observed a migration of customers from prepaid plans to postpaid, where subscribers pay at the end of each month. That’s likely bad news for
(S), which, of the four major U.S. wireless providers, counts the largest percentage of its revenues from prepaid phones.
Not to be outdone, T-Mobile released its own preliminary fourth quarter numbers on Wednesday. The self-identified “Un-carrier” added a net 1.4 million new postpaid subscriptions, its best quarter ever, including 1 million new phones. It’s the 23rd straight quarter in which the company has added at least 1 million total postpaid customers.
“These customer results speak volumes about our company, our network, and our brand!” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a characteristically enthusiastic statement announcing the results.
Neither Sprint nor
(T) plan to disclose preliminary subscriber numbers before releasing full quarterly results in late January and early February, spokespersons for the companies said. While not necessarily a zero-sum game, the competitors are unlikely to post such stronger-than-expected postpaid subscriber numbers for last quarter. UBS telecom and cable analyst John Hodulik expects AT&T’s overall net postpaid subscribers to be flat for the quarter, including 200,000 phone adds. He sees Sprint continuing to struggle, losing both postpaid and prepaid subscribers in the period.
Verizon stock rose almost 3% Tuesday after announcing its subscriber numbers (the stock fell 1.3% on Wednesday, but going ex-dividend explained almost all of the drop). T-Mobile stock gained as much as 4% early Wednesday before declining to end the day flat, off 0.1%. AT&T stock and Sprint both fell on their competitors’ good news, down 2.2% and 0.5%, respectively, on Wednesday.
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