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Third Quarter 2015 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator

The third quarter of 2015 was a good one for US operators. 

AT&T and T-Mobile posted big subscriber gains, although most of AT&T's growth came from lower margin prepaid and connected car subscribers. 

Verizon gained fewer customers than AT&T and T-Mobile but lead the industry in the most important metric, profitability. 

Sprint posted a modest subscriber gain including its first gain in postpaid subscribers in more than two years.

All four US national operators gained subscribers last quarter:
  • AT&T added 289,000 postpaid, 466,000 prepaid and 1.6 million connected device subscribers, but lost 156,000 reseller customers for a total gain of 2.5 million subscribers vs gains of 2.09 million in Q2 2015 and 2.07 million in Q3 2014.
  • T-Mobile added 1.1 million postpaid, 595,000 prepaid, and 632,000 wholesale customers for a total gain of 2.31 million customers. That compares with gains of 2.07 million in Q2 2015 and 2.34 million a year ago in Q3 2014.
  • Verizon added 1.3 million postpaid but lost 80,000 prepaid customers for a total gain of 1.21 million vs gains of 1.01 million in Q2 2015 and 1.53 million in Q2 2014.
  • Sprint added 553,000 postpaid and 866,000 wholesale customers but lost 363,000 prepaid users for a total gain of 1.1 million customers vs gains of 675,000 in Q2 2015 and 590,000 in Q3 2014.
Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile were profitable last quarter but Sprint posted another loss, its fift quarterly loss in a row.
  • Verizon made a profit of $4.71 billion last quarter compared with $2.9 billion in Q2 2015 and $3.79 billion in Q3 2014.
  • AT&T made $2.99 billion last quarter compared with $3.04 billion in Q2 2015 and $3.13 billion in Q3 2014.
  • T-Mobile made $138 million last quarter compared with $361 million in Q2 2015 and a loss of $94 million in Q3 2014.
  • Sprint lost $585 million compared a loss of $20 million in Q2 2015 and $765 million in Q3 2014.
Here's how the operators ranked by total subscribers at the end of the quarter:
  • Verizon 130 million*
  • AT&T 126.4 million
  • T-Mobile 61.2 million
  • Sprint 57.87 million
*Estimated. Verizon doesn't report wholesale and M2M customer numbers. Verizon reported 110.8 retail connections at the end of Q2, 2015. I estimate that Verizon has approximately 130 million total subscribers, including MVNO, wholesale and M2M connections.

The number of branded prepaid customers increased for the fifth quarter in a row. The gains came from T-Mobile and AT&T as both Verizon and Sprint lost prepaid customers. AT&T credited its Cricket brand for the bulk its prepaid gains. Although Sprint lost 363,000 prepaid customers 199,000 of them were migrations from prepaid to postpaid.
  • T-Mobile added 595,000 prepaid subscribers
  • AT&T added 466,000
  • Verizon lost 80,000
  • Sprint lost 363,000
América Móvil's Tracfone subsidiary had another quarter of weak growth, adding only 13 thousand subscribers in last quarter compared with 25 thousand in the second quarter quarter and 414 thousand in Q3 of 2014.

TracFone,which operates the Straight Talk, NET10, Tracfone, Simple Mobile, Page Plus, Total Wireless, Telcel America and SafeLink Wireless MVNO brands, blamed its lack of significant growth on increasing competition. It said that its Straight Talk, Total Wireless and Safelink brands experienced solid growth but legacy brands, including TracFone and NET10 declined. TracFone's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization fell by 33% in Q3 2015 compared with Q3 2014. The company blamed the sharp earnings drop on higher customer acquisition and retention costs.

Total prepaid customers by carrier as of the end of last quarter were:
  • Tracfone 25.7 million
  • T-Mobile 17.16 million
  • Sprint 14.98 million
  • AT&T 10.99 million
  • Verizon 5.74 million
I think TracFone's slow growth and lowered earnings highlight a general weakness in the MVNO sector. Except for TracFone, the MVNOs are privately held and don't report subscriber numbers or growth. The four national operators are aggressively pricing and heavily promoting their prepaid offerings and that's got to putting pressure on the MVNOs.

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
Fourth Quarter 2014 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator
First Quarter 2015 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator
Second Quarter 2015 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator

37 comments:

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  1. I don't get Tmobile PREPAID growth. They're more expensive than pretty much everybody else. Save for maybe the $30 100 minute plan. Their coverage also lacks compared to at&t and Verizon. Personally I'm only with Tmobile because my $30 plan is $30 even, and I'm anti social so 100 minutes works for me. Though i will say Tmobile today isn't tmobile of 2010. 98% of the time i have full tmobile coverage.

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    1. I'm sure most of T-Mobie's prepaid growth came from their MetroPCS brand rather than T-Mobile Prepaid.

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    2. Brand recognition, and people are willing to spend a little more for a "full-service" wireless carrier than navigate the confusing waters of the MVNO market. Also, if you have several lines on their family plan, the price per line comes down significantly.

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    3. Simple Choice plans from Tmo, both pre- and postpaid offer extra benefits that other carriers don't match. And the 4 lines, $30/line Unlimited TnT plus 10GB per line is an excellent bargain, the best in postpaid right now. Even if you don't include the extra benefits like 'free' music streaming that doesn't count against your 10GB, and free international text and data roaming.

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  2. I have been on 3 of the 4 (not Verizon) and can say that AT&T's coverage is just that much better than t-mobile and sprint in my state. I can't say anything about Verizon though I hear coverage is even better than AT&T. Just goes to show that people pay for better coverage. Verizon is most profitable despite losing subs this quarter.

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    1. That's because Verizon has service in places that don't just have lousy service with the other 3 but no service at all. I know I've lived in them as late as last year.

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    2. Verizon gets almost all of its profit from postpaid customers who pay large monthly bills. Besides the coverage, these people want hand-holding when they have a problem, and don't know about prepaid service. Verizon sure won't educate them. Verizon customers are among the least satisfied in the business in terms of value for the money, but for various reasons they choose not to do anything about it. The Verizon marketing department really earns their pay.

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    3. And the most expansive network in the country has nothing to do with that huh.

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    4. Reading-challenged?: "Besides the coverage,"

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    5. Verizon has the best network, period. It sells itself.

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    6. Obviously the Vzw marketing message got through to you.

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    7. Re the "Obviously" message.

      I ignore Vzw marketing. I just happen to know my stuff. Verizon has the best network in the lower 48 US states. AT&T comes close. All others are way behind.

      I currently use an AT&T option because it is much cheaper than Verizon. But rest assured if Verizon cost no more than what I have now, I'd jump ship to Verizon in an instant.

      Not nothing to do with marketing. It had to do with Verizon's spending in a much more important area: building a network that comes the closest to blanketing the lower 48.
      Closer than any competitor has done. Far far more than anyone else (save AT&T).

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    8. The problem is the meaning of best. For some that means geographical coverage. For others, speed and reliability. Still others consider employer discounts. On and on. Best is totally subjective and the discussion of best carrier is meaningless.

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    9. Nothing subjective here. I already mentioned the matter of best regardless of cost, which chucks out your "employer discounts" FUD... along with the "on and on".

      A network with 0 bars has the least reliability and lowest speed.

      Rest assured, if Verizon offered plans that cost no more than Boost, MetroPCS, and Cricket, 90% of us would switch over from those 3 within a month or two.

      Just like we'd all be driving Lexuses if they cost no more than our Chevy Malibu's and Kia Rio's.

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    10. Totally subjective. They are NOT best everywhere NOR do they have coverage everywhere. Their CDMA network sucks for using maps or a browser or yelp while trying to make a call. You like them, I get that. But they are not categorically best, and I for one would have only a land line if they were the only choice.

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    11. Currently on ptel because of cost, but i am even thinking about going back to an att mvno. If verizon mvnos ever hit the price of att mvnos, I would switch to verizon network.

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  3. Why tmobile doesn't allow you to swap sims via their website. I'll never understand.

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    1. If you mean swap a new SIM for the one on your account, it's for security reasons. They want to make sure that you are the account owner.

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    2. All they did is ask me my phone number and name. That's it. So much for security.

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    3. When I call them, the ask for my passcode too. And they confirm the current SIM serial number before swapping a new SIM to the account.

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  4. I've never seen so many metro pcs and boost mobile brick and mortar stores as I have in southwest Florida.

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  5. Consumer Cellular signed up its 2,000,000th customer during the last week of October, and to celebrate, the MVNO donated $2 million to the Knight Cancer Challenge in Oregon.

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  6. I wonder how many of Sprint's migrations to prepaid were because of its iPhone leasing program.

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    1. You meant migration to postpaid, I presume. More details on the migration; it's not what you might expect: "During the quarter 199,000 prepaid customers with consistent payment history migrated to Sprint's postpaid service, with 175,000 of these migrations now included as postpaid customers under the respective Boost and Virgin brands. Excluding total migrations from prepaid, postpaid net additions would have been 354,000." Source: Fierce Wireless reporting on Sprint results.

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  7. Sprint moved like 200K customers from prepaid to post-paid, I'd be weary about their numbers with a $500M loss. Sprint needs to step up its prepaid game. Bring us proper BYOD, raise those data buckets, offer international data, and bring group plans. Cricket is killing it right now.

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  8. Im wondering how many of thise sprint prepaid lines are from free plans on Ringplus?FreedomPop? Between my family and friends theres around 15 free lines, im wondering how many thousands have done the same!

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    1. None, RingPlus subscribers are counted as wholesale rather than prepaid.

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  9. Dennis: Re Sprint and Sprint Prepaid:
    Is there a reason Sprint wont activate an existing Samsung GS3 Sprint phone onto the lower cost Sprint Prepaid other than greed in wanting the customer to buy a new SprintPrepaid phone listed on their website? The phone is currently (for over 4 years) on a higher cost Sprint plan in the NYC market. Purchased from Sprint back then.

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    1. Greed might be a factor but so is the inflexibility of Virgin Mobile's systems that won't allow them to accept an MEID from a non-Virgin Mobile phone. Sprint probably doesn't consider modifying the system to accept Virgin Mobile devices to be cost-effective.

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    2. The poster mentioned Sprint Prepaid, not Virgin Mobile.

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    3. It's still Sprint with the same kludgy Sprint systems.

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    4. Yes. Despite what they tell you at Boost brick-and-Mordor storefronts, Boost and Virgin are the exact same company on the exact same network.

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  10. "TracFone,which operates the Straight Talk, NET10, Tracfone, Simple Mobile, Page Plus, Total Wireless, Telcel America and SafeLink Wireless MVNO brands, blamed its lack of significant growth on increasing competition. It said that its Straight Talk, Total Wireless and Safelink brands experienced solid growth but legacy brands, including TracFone and NET10 declined. TracFone's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization fell by 33% in Q3 2015 compared with Q3 2014. The company blamed the sharp earnings drop on higher customer acquisition and retention costs."

    Or maybe people are just getting wise to the horrid America Movil CS and fleeing. Hopefully in droves in the future. Please die (or change/improve, yeah riiiight) Movil in USA.

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  11. yeah tracfone is weak. ported out of tracfone. their triple buckets are nothing but a mess. the seemingly well intended tracfone recipes on hofo are a fools trap into the hell that is tracfone. may look like you are getting value but the underlying tracfone infrastructure is such a flimsy confused mess that it is no wonder that tracfone is slipping. tracfone is for stupid fools who blindly think they are superior with their stupid recipes.

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  12. Ting 3Q numbers and analysis reported here: http://www.fiercewireless.com/story/mvno-ting-adds-fewer-subs-q3-points-continued-pain-sprint-mvno-rule-changes/2015-11-06

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  13. Sprint says it migrated 199,000 customers from prepaid to postpaid in Q3, 2015. 175,000 of those customers are reclassified Boost and Virgin Mobile customers. Sprint says these customers have consistent payment histories and are being offered credit terms to buy new, more expensive handsets that they could not afford to pay for up front. Can you provide any more information about this program? Does it affect the services too; I.e., availability of roaming on Boost or Virgin Mobile?

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  14. VZW Q4 Subscriber adds 1.5 million net additions for the fourth quarter. Full year net additions totaled 4.5 million. Net Prepaid devices they reported a loss of 157,000.

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