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Fourth Quarter 2014 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator

All four US national operators gained subscribers last quarter:

  • T-Mobile added 1.28 million postpaid, 266,000 prepaid, 434,000 MVNO and 152,000 M2M customers for a total gain of 2.1 million customers vs gains of 2.3 million in Q3 2014 and 1.6 million in Q4 2013.
  • Verizon added 1.99 million postpaid and 81,000 prepaid customers  for a total gain of 2.07 million vs gains of 1.53 million in Q3 2014 and 1.65 million in Q4 2013.
  • AT&T added 854,000 postpaid and 1,296,000 connected device subscribers but lost 180,000 prepaid and 65.000 reseller customers for a total gain of 1.9 million subscribers vs gains of 2 million in Q3 2014 and 809,000 in Q4 2013.
  • Sprint added 30,000 postpaid,  410,000 prepaid and 527,000 wholesale customers for a total gain of 967 thousand customers vs gains of 484,000 in Q3 2014 and 477,000 million in Q4 2013.
However only T-Mobile posted a profit last quarter as Verizon and AT&T swung to losses and Sprint's loss increased dramatically.

  • T-Mobile made a profit of 101 million compared losses of $94 million in Q3 2014 and $20 million in Q4 2013.
  • Verizon lost $2.15 billion last quarter compared with profits of $3.79 billion in Q3 2014 and  $7.92 billion in Q4 2013. It blamed the loss on one time charges for employee benefits and pensions.
  • Sprint lost $2.54 billion compared with losses of $192 million in Q3 2014 and  576 million in Q4 2013. Most of the loss (2.1 million) was due to a one-time right down of the book values of the Sprint name and Sprint's wireline network.
  • AT&T lost $3.98 billion last quarter compared profits of $3 billion in Q3 2014 and  $6.91 billion in Q4 2013. It attributed the loss to higher benefit costs, write offs, merger expenses and losses from the sale of Connecticut wireline operations.  
In terms of total subscribers, Verizon is still the largest and T-Mobile the smallest. But fast growing T-Mobile is likely to pass Sprint into third place in number of subscribers sometime this quarter. Here's how the operators ranked by total subscribers at the end of the quarter:

  • Verizon 128 million*
  • AT&T 120.55 million
  • Sprint 55.93 million
  • T-Mobile 55.02 million
*Estimated. Verizon doesn't report wholesale and M2M customer numbers. Verizon reported 108.21 retail connections at the end of Q4, 2014. Industry analysts estimate that Verizon has approximately 128 million total subscribers, including wholesale and M2M connections.

The number of prepaid customers increased for the second quarter in a row. All the carriers except AT&T gained prepaid subscribers. AT&T's decline in prepaid is surprising given its Cricket prepaid brand's aggressive pricing and the $100 credit it's been offering customers to switch to Cricket. I believe the losses were from AT&T's older and and relatively neglected in terms of marketing and customer incentives, GoPhone brand.

  • Sprint added 410,000 prepaid subscribers
  • T-Mobile added 266,000
  • Verizon gained 81,000
  • AT&T shed 180,000 
América Móvil's Tracfone subsidiary, which operates under the Straight Talk, NET10, Tracfone, Simple Mobile, Page Plus, Telcel America and SafeLink Wireless brands, and is by far the largest prepaid MVNO gained 101 thousand subscribers last quarter. That's a substantial decrease from Q3 2014's 414,000 and Q4 2013's 613,000 new customers.

Total prepaid customers by carrier as of the end of last quarter were:

  • Tracfone 26 million 
  • T-Mobile 16.32 million
  • Sprint 15.54 million
  • AT&T 10.99 million
  • Verizon 6.13 million
Although all the carriers gained subscribers last quarter it came at a cost as as only T-Mobile was profitable. I wonder if we will see fewer price cuts and switcher credits going forward as the operators seek profitability?

Sources: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, América Móvil

Related:
Second Quarter 2014 Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator
Third Quarter 2014 Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator

34 comments:

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  1. Verizon continues to impress with nearly 2 million postpaid adds. Sprint has invested heavily in their network but is not reaping the fruit from that investment.

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    1. They were mostly tablet adds, those aren't new customers. ATT, Sprint, and Verizon are hiding their figures with connected devices (tablets, hotspots, cars, watches, diagnostics, etc.)

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    2. I would add that T Mobile offers free data on tablets every month if you will agree to say you are their customer, so no doubt, a lot of their adds are on that as well. In fact, they are one adding NO revenue customers like this. But your point is valid, tablets and connected devices are an area of subscriber growth now that virtually everyone has at least one cell phone.

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  2. Where are the Sprint Pre-Paid increases derived from? Only from the Subsidiaries or from Sprint MVNOs as well?

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    1. Sprint added 410,000 branded (Boost, Virgin, Sprint Prepaid and Assurance) prepaid subscribers last quarter. They also added 527,000 wholesale (MVNO and M2M) customers. Sprint doesn't breakout how many of the wholesale customers were from MVNOs.

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  3. I wonder, based on those numbers, if, or rather when, will SoftBank give up on Sprint, and either put it up for sale, at a huge loss of course, or seek BK protection, which will force the FCC/FTC to approve a merger with T-Mobile.

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    1. I agree. Sprint is doomed as a stand alone wireless Co., however, they do own a lot of spectrum, so I don't think they will have to go as far as BK court, Red, Blue and Magenta will be more than happy to snatch their holdings on the cheap.

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    2. Dish Network might buy up the better part of that spectrum or all of Sprint itself. The top four wireless carriers could soon be Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Dish. Unless Dish buys T-Mobile instead, either way Dish would be competing with AT&T which bought Dish' main competitor DirecTV last year. On the other hand Google could buy Sprint and actually make something out of all that spectrum.

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    3. Softbank is a strange company. I recall when they bought the Comdex trade show from Sheldon Adelson just as it was in decline. Softbank didn't cause the decline, the show had outlived its appeal when they bought it. Similar to Sprint, it was clear that Sprint was in hopeless decline and someone was dumb enough to overpay for it.

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  4. Can you explain what wholesale customers are and what M2M customers, please? Also, it appears Sprint overstates it's customer base by 1 million, is this true? The reason is Sprint waits 6 months before dropping a non-paying customer. Is this normal? Do you know what the others do?

    Also when you explained Sprints loss, I think you meant 2.1 billion and not million.

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    1. M2M is "machine2machine". It includes things like wireless vehicle and shipment tracking, burglar alarms, surveillance cameras etc. Wholesale consists on M2M and MVNO.

      I saw TMO CEO John Legere's claim about Sprint keeping suspended customers on the books longer than other carriers. I have no idea how accurate that is. I have to wonder how he knows so much about a competitor's internal accounting practices.

      Thanks for the heads up on the million/billion typo which I've fixed.

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    2. "I have to wonder how he knows so much about a competitor's internal accounting practices." Here is how anybody can get the Sprint numbers in question: "Subscribers through some of our MVNO relationships have inactivity either in voice usage or primarily as a result of the nature of the device, where activity only occurs when data retrieval is initiated by the end-user and may occur infrequently," Sprint said in its most recent filing. "Although we continue to provide these subscribers access to our network through our MVNO relationships, approximately 1,738,000 subscribers at December 31, 2014 through these MVNO relationships have been inactive for at least six months, with no associated revenue during the six-month period ended December 31, 2014."
      Sprint counted 1.637 million such customers end of the third quarter of 2014, 1.519 million at the end of the second quarter and 1.421 million at the end of the first quarter, according to Sprint's SEC filings.

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  5. T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a conference call this morning that T-Mobile has already passed Sprint. He went onto say that in Sprint's Q4 2014 fillings, they were apparently trying to count 1.7 million MVNO accounts with "no usage or revenue greater than 6 months." . . . The other major carriers typically turn of inactive MVNO accounts after 60 to 90 days.

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  6. Good stuff.
    Thanks Dennis.

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  7. I'm not surprised AT&T lost more prepaid customers than it gained, AT&T made a big mistake calling their new prepaid brand Cricket. Cricket was already a brand well known for poor customer service and almost no coverage even in their home markets, its a brand that needed to reinvent itself and almost everyone, except people who read this site, still see Cricket as a carrier to be avoided. AT&T would have been better off sticking with their own all new Aio brand instead. I suspect that if AT&T had offered Cricket's current plans under their own Aio brand, or any other brand, they would have drawn in far more subscribers. I'd bet that if AT&T rebranded Cricket as something else they'd be far more popular.

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    1. Didn't at first, But I feel the same way. I had Aio before the merger/name change. Should have absorbed cricket into Aio and started fresh. As a current satisfied, Gophone customer I can see a place for a volume prepaid division sold outside of brick and mortar att stores. Aio just sounded a lot better.

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    2. I agree with you, AIO would have been a better choice. I would have joined AIO months ago, but when it changed to Cricket, I hit the brakes. Cricket's bad reputation for poor customer service sticks in my mind.

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    3. This is from a Cricket employee at the beginning of the brand under AT&T. He said that it was a no-brainer for AT&T to buy Cricket Wireless and fuse its Aio brand with it because while Aio held a little more than 100,000 subscribers a the time, Cricket Wireless held about 1.3 million. Growth was the name.

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    4. Absolute Worst Brandnames Ever:
      CRICKET
      FREEDOMPOP

      Who really wants cricket bug for a phone?

      And Freedompop sounds like the name of the freebie dialup internet service that went belly up dead during dotcom bubble debacle.

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    5. I agree, but Straight Talk has got to be a close third and what about Pure Talk what's that suppose to mean?

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    6. My 10 favorite dumb names for wireless carriers, besides Cricket and FreePop already mentioned: 1. Chit Chat 2. PagePlus (pagers? really?) 3. H2O 4. Jolt (don't mix with H20!) 5. ROK (Republic of Korea?) 6. Solavei 7. Envie (not) 8. Simple (really?) 9. UpWireless (you too, buddy) 9. U Prepaid (ibid), and 10. Verizon (made-up names with z vs. s are always dumb).

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  8. InvestorPlace suggests we invest in T-Mobile US. A 'cool' brand that has added 22M customers in 2 years and has lots more growth potential. Reasonable stock price at 9x earnings. http://investorplace.com/2015/02/tmus-causes-pain-att-verizon/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+InvestorPlace+%28InvestorPlace%29#.VOZ1g0Jh1E4

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  9. I noticed a spelling error in the title....

    title says "fouth" instead of "fourth" quarter

    thanks for all your hard work, Dennis

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  10. Why has this post disappeared from the home page?

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  11. no wonder why T Mobile is growing so fast with super competitive MVNO pricing like Ultra mobile, ROK mobile ($399 for a year), PTEL, etc... Sidenote: Hey Dennis, It seems like you never posted anything on your site here about Harbor Mobile or ROK mobile ($33 for 5GB!)??
    2nd side note: Red Pocket (ouch) has to be in the top 5 list of strange sounding mvno names :)

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    Replies
    1. There are links to my ROK and Harbor posts in the "News by Carrier" sidebar on the desktop version of the site.

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  12. Sprint and TMobile jockeying for very distant fourth. Like a horse race.

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  13. Nice graphs and analysis to dive into these Q4 results for carriers:
    http://www.fiercewireless.com/special-reports/how-verizon-att-sprint-and-t-mobile-stacked-q4-2014

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  14. FCC Document:http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-adopts-strong-sustainable-rules-protect-open-internet

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  15. Verizon added 565,000 retail postpaid net additions in first-quarter 2015, a 4.8 percent increase from the 539,000 it added in the year-ago period. However, Verizon also lost 188,000 retail prepaid customers, compared to a gain of 10,000 prepaid customers a year ago.

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  16. T-Mobile US: Q1 2015 Reporthttp://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150428005297/en/T-Mobile-Reports-Quarter-2015-Results#.VT-DFs4-CkY

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    1. Q1 2015 Verizon lost 138,000 postpaid subscribers, AT&T lost 300,00. T-Mobile gained 1.1 million, 8 Q in a row with >1M net new adds for Tmo. Sprint TBD. T-Mobile retained more of their customers than they ever have - 98.7% - a new record for them. Better retention is probably due to their rapidly improving LTE network, mostly on 1900 and 700 MHz. They have 700 MHz up in 55 markets now, with launches recently in Detroit, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Tampa. Their LTE was in 157 markets at end Q1, and the goal is 200 by end 2015.

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    2. Correction: I should have said Wideband LTE is in 157 markets moving to 200, not LTE, which is in many more markets already.

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