While for many of us September serves as a close to the glorious dog days of summer, for wireless carriers September serves as the start of the end-of-year push, a time where carriers roll out the latest gadgets, the newest services, and the most innovative features in an attempt to lure you all into signing a lucrative multi-year postpaid contract.
For us this means that it’s the start of the season where everything is about what’s to come in the wireless, telecom, television and technology markets, a time where the market is awash in new product announcements (starting of course with Apple’s iPhone 5).
So as carriers enter what has become for many a season of plenty, here’s a quick look at the current status of most major American wireless service providers; where they’re at and where they’re (probably) going. As anyone who follows wireless telecom already knows, the marketplace is changing, and it’s becoming abundantly clear which companies are comfortable with that change, and which ones are still trying to find their place in this new wireless world.
Verizon: In a market where 98% of the available consumer base already has some sort of cellphone contract, Verizon was still able to post strong subscriber growth, adding 1.2 million net subscribers. Of that, 888 thousand were postpaid (the most lucrative kind of contract for carriers), resulting in wireless profits reaching their highest point.
AT&T: MaBell is the most profitable it’s ever been, despite the fact the company sold fewer smartphones last quarter. As I’ve explained before, the less smartphones sold means lower punitive subsidy fees. While that also AT&T is not adding new customers as the same rate it was a year ago, the fact is the company is not losing customers either. Instead, customers are hanging on to their smartphones longer, no doubt because those available mobile dollars are being spent on other devices like tablets, an area AT&T has also seen strong growth in.
Sprint: It seems the only way to win customers away from either of the Big Two is to offer something they simply don’t, and in this mobile marketplace that ‘thing’ is unlimited data. While Sprint’s LTE upgrade is woefully slow, the company continues to win customers (1.5 million new iPhone subscribers this last quarter) simply by the fact that Sprint avoids the tiered service contracts.
T-Mobile: Quite possibly the greatest disappointment in the wireless world, T-Mobile is a company with an identity problem. Caught between the lower end prepaid market and the more lucrative postpaid contracts, T-Mobile finds itself haemorrhaging customers. While the company has returned to an unlimited data model, being the largest wireless company to not carry the iPhone will ultimately hurt this Deutsche Telekom subsidiary. Any buyers out there?
U.S Cellular and MetroPCS: Two of the largest regional carriers, both these companies have hit hard times, losing 48,000 and 186,000 customers respectively. Both dabble largely in local prepaid markets, and must find ways to be successful in this ever-changing market.
In the end, this is a look at the top American wireless players, where they’re at and where they’re going. Its clear that customers are trending towards the larger carriers, whether its for device selection or company stability (it certainly can’t be for price or customer service!), meaning that the smaller carriers need to find ways to compete with their larger counterparts, matching them on options and beating them in areas like customer service, value, and network stability.