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Fourth Quarter 2015 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator

The fourth quarter of 2015 was another good one for US operators. 

AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint all gained both total customers and postpaid customers last quarter.
  • AT&T added 526,000 postpaid, 469,000 prepaid, 1.2 million connected device subscribers and 50,000 reseller customers for a total gain of 2.23 million subscribers vs gains of 2.51 million in Q3 2015 and 1.90 million in Q4 2014.
  • T-Mobile added 1.29 million postpaid, 469,000 prepaid, and 301,000 wholesale customers for a total gain of 2.06 million customers. That compares with gains of 2.31 million in Q3 2015 and 2.13 million a year ago in Q3 2014.
  • Verizon added 1.5 million postpaid but lost 157,000 prepaid customers for a total gain of 1.36 million vs gains of 1.21 million in Q3 2015 and 2.1 million in Q4 2014.
  • Sprint added 501,000 postpaid and 481,000 wholesale customers but lost 491,000 prepaid users for a total gain of 491,000 customers vs gains of 1.1 million in Q3 2015 and 967,000 in Q4 2014.
Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile were profitable last quarter but Sprint posted a loss, its sixth quarterly loss in a row.
  • Verizon made a profit of $5.99 billion last quarter compared with $4.17 billion in Q3 2015 and a loss of  $2.15 billion in Q4 2014.
  • AT&T made $4.01 billion last quarter compared with $2.99 billion in Q3 2015 and a loss of $4 billion in Q3 2014.
  • T-Mobile made $297 million last quarter compared with $138 million in Q3 2015 and $101 million in Q3 2014.
  • Sprint lost $197 million compared a loss of $2 million in Q3 2015 and $2.21 billion in Q4 2014.
Here's how the operators ranked by total subscribers at the end of the quarter:
  • Verizon 138 million*
  • AT&T 128.6 million
  • T-Mobile 63.3 million
  • Sprint 58.4 million
*Estimated. Verizon doesn't report wholesale and M2M customer numbers. Verizon reported 112.1 million retail connections at the end of Q4, 2015. I estimate that Verizon has approximately 138 million total subscribers, including MVNO, wholesale and M2M connections.

The number of branded prepaid customers increased for the sixth quarter in a row. The gains came from T-Mobile and AT&T as both Verizon and Sprint lost prepaid customers.
  • T-Mobile added 469,000 prepaid subscribers
  • AT&T also added 469,000
  • Verizon lost 157,000
  • Sprint lost 491,000
América Móvil's Tracfone subsidiary lost 58,000 customers compared with adding 13 thousand subscribers in Q3, 2015 and 101 thousand in Q4 of 2014. This is the first quarterly loss by TracFone in many years.

TracFone,which operates the Straight Talk, NET10, Tracfone, Simple Mobile, Page Plus, Total Wireless, Telcel America and SafeLink Wireless MVNO brands, said the subscriber loses were mainly among voice-only TracFone and Net10 customers. TracFone's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization fell by 5% in Q4 2015 compared with Q4 2014. The company blamed the earnings drop on lower handset prices.

Total prepaid customers by carrier as of the end of last quarter were:
  • Tracfone 25.7 million
  • T-Mobile 17.63 million
  • Sprint 14.66 million
  • AT&T 11.55 million
  • Verizon 5.58 million
I believe that TracFone's subscriber loses and reduced earnings reflect a fundamental shift in the prepaid market. The big four have been aggressively increasing the amount of data included with monthly prepaid plans. However it doesn't look like they are reducing the wholesale data prices paid by MVNOs by a comparable amount. That has left MVNOs, including TracFone, in a difficult position of not being able to compete effectively at the high end of the prepaid market. TracFone has deep pockets and will survive but I fear that many smaller, independent MVNOs will not.

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

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
Third Quarter 2015 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator


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  1. I feel the same way as you Dennis, tracfone is a survivor. Smaller mvnos really rely on sprint, as much as some rag on sprint, they are a major factor keeping prices down, if sprint went away Tmobile would probably gain most of their customers and eventually raise prices.
    Verizon really got a huge head start on LTE and its network in general, no surprise they still dominate.

  2. Poor Sprint, they just can't run a wireless company.

  3. This is shame for Sprint! They chased by German company huh!

  4. I also agree that other MVNO's will follow Ptel's fate. It is true that most of the big four are making their prepaid plan offers a lot more attractive than they once were. Lets hope more are able to survive aside from Tracfone, specially the ones that are US based.

  5. What I found most interesting of any of the numbers for any of the carriers is the total number of Sprint Prepaid (probably SPP, Boost, VM, Assurance) end of year connections were down and reported as 14,661,000, whereas "Wholesale and affiliate connections" were up and reported as 12,803,000. Less than two million difference. Additionally, Sprint's heavily-promoted postpaid 4Q adds were only 20,000 higher than said wholesalers and affiliates.

    Makes one wonder if most of the growth is FreedomPop and RingPlus, and/or if Sprint MVNOs in general are doing a better job of selling Sprint than Sprint itself.

  6. Tracfone was good. However, they have not taken care of customers, they havr been only care for their pocket only. Push customer away from them. I used ST before, unlimited data, but my data stopped working after 1 week or so without explaination. Customer service was bad and rude. I then quit and went with H20 (as Ineed att service) And was happy until I've switched to Cricket and stay till. Tracfone is changing alot; however, I will not come back again, cause it lost my trust.

  7. I think more people are just saying NO, never to any America Movil company. I know I am and I do my best to move anyone I know off of them, evn if they have never had the "pleasure" of dealing w/Movil CS. Personally I hope they go belly up in the USA, probably never happen - sucker born every minute -

  8. If a non Tracfone independent mvno tries to go head to head in a battle with the big five, they will get killed because the big four control all the strings an Tracfone has the economy of scale edge on any other mvno. On the other hand, if an mvno finds a non data orientated focus, they can do very well. Ultra is doing well by emphasizing international calling over data, Ting doessell unlimited at all and Consumer Cellular focuses on senior citizens and is making a billion dollars in sales a year. They've found their niches both grat and small. Others like Ringplus and Freedompop monetize "free".None of these success stories try to be Straight Talk, Boost or Metro. But all are showing that marching to the different beat can mean success, not failure.

  9. We used Page Plus before AM bought them, really liked them back then. Anyone who ever has to deal with AM "customer service" will understand why their numbers are declining. That and me researching Slim had me changing all our phones out to another MVNO, I also hope they fail here in the USA but not holding my breath.

    1. Did you stay w/a Verizon based MVNO? If so which one.

      After AM took over Page Plus and then closed their US based CS department I have sent quite a few people over to Selectel (Verizon based, USA based CS, similar plans to Page Plus with the added bonus of no charge for off network roaming). Most have reported a good experience.

    2. We switched over to Red Pocket CDMAV $19.99 3G plan (300 talk, unlimited text, 1GB Data). They have decent CS so far, data is full 3G speeds we got on Verizon and Page Plus. Best deal I could find with 1GB of data, no other plan really comes close and we don't need roaming. The one drawback is there is no way to check your minutes or data usage either online or text command like on other MVNOs, at least not on the Verizon side of things.

    3. Thanks, yeah for a low talker that is great.

      Selectel w/1gb is $30. It does have 5x the min. (1500) and the free roaming if needed but why pay for all that if you never (or very rarely) need it.

    4. Yeah, we are low talkers for sure (me more than my better-half). Wife uses tons of texts, me not so much. I mainly use the data on job sites where there is no wifi and usually have a little of the 1GB left over each month since I don't do things like stream video.

  10. Lots of competition in the prepaid market. I bet Cricket are pulling tracfone subscribers away with much better deals.

  11. MVNOs and TracFone can't compete because they are primarily for 'feature phone' consumers that just need limited talk plans. That trend has been on a massive decline as people upgrade to smartphones that require data.

    The average data consumption of a smartphone user now is around 3GB per month. MVNOs and TracFone have never offered attractive pricing on data plans.

  12. US Cellular Q4 results were reported here:

  13. I think Verizon is really capitalizing on the under $50/mo market with their $45/mo for unl t&t and 3GB full LTE with auto pay. T-Mobile messed up on that one. Maybe they should come out with an auto pay plan or something.

  14. I hope red pocket survives. I'm on the eBay plan and don't use a lot of the minutes, text, or data.

    I'll gladly do another year plan if it's similar later this year.

  15. I am impressed with the strides Vz allset and att gophone have made. Prices are reasonable for the superior performance and customer service. Att's autopay discount, and Vz's autopay with data bonus, caused mist of my family and friends to jump ship from TracFone based services.

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