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First Quarter 2016 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator

The first quarter of 2016 was a relatively good one US mobile operators.

AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint all gained both total customers and postpaid customers last quarter.

  • T-Mobile added 1 million postpaid, 807,000 prepaid, and 373,000 wholesale customers for a total gain of 2.2 million customers. That compares with gains of 2.06 million in Q4 2015 and 1.8 million a year ago in Q1 2014.
  • AT&T added 129,000 postpaid, 500,000 prepaid, and 1.55 million connected device subscribers, but lost 400,000 reseller customers for a total gain of 1.78 million subscribers vs gains of 2.23 million in Q4 2015 and 1.22 million in Q1 2015.
  • Verizon added 640,000 postpaid connections but lost 177,000 prepaid customers for a total gain of 463,000 vs gains of 1.36 million in Q4 2015 and 370,000 in Q1 2015.
  • Sprint added 56,000 postpaid and 655,000 wholesale customers but lost 264,000 prepaid users for a total gain of 447,000 customers vs gains of 491,000 in Q4 2015 and 1.25 million in Q1 2015.
Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile were profitable last quarter but Sprint again posted a loss, its seventh quarterly loss in a row. The news wasn't all bad at Sprint, which reported positive annual operating income for the first time in nine years. That means that Sprint would have been profitable for the fiscal year that ended March 31 if only it didn't have to pay interest on it's huge debt.

  • Verizon made a profit of $4.43 billion last quarter compared with $5.51 billion in Q4 2015 and 4.34 billion in Q1 2015.
  • AT&T made $3.8 billion last quarter compared with $4.01 billion in Q4 2015 and $3.26 billion in Q1 2015.
  • T-Mobile made $479 million last quarter compared with $297 million in Q4 2015 and a loss of $63 million in Q1 2015.
  • Sprint lost $554 million compared a loss of $197 million in Q4 2015 and $224 billion in Q1 2015.
Here's how the operators ranked by total subscribers at the end of the quarter:

  • Verizon 138 million*
  • AT&T 130.4 million
  • T-Mobile 65.5 million
  • Sprint 58.8 million
*Estimated. Verizon doesn't report wholesale and M2M customer numbers. Verizon reported 112.6 million retail connections at the end of Q1, 2016. I estimate that Verizon has approximately 138 million total subscribers, including MVNO, wholesale and M2M connections.

América Móvil's Tracfone subsidiary lost 458 thousand customers compared with a loss of 58 thousand subscribers in Q4, 2015 and a gain of 177 thousand a year ago in Q1 of 2015. This is the second consecutive quarterly subscriber loss by TracFone.

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 TracFone and Safelink customers. TracFone's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization fell by a massive 24.2% in Q1 2016 compared with Q1 2015. The company blamed the earnings drop on a 22% decline earnings from device sales, but service revenues also dropped slightly.

he number of branded prepaid customers increased for the seventh quarter in a row. The gains came from T-Mobile and AT&T as Verizon, TracFone and Sprint lost prepaid customers.

  • T-Mobile added 807,000 prepaid subscribers
  • AT&T also added 500,000
  • Verizon lost 177,000
  • TracFone lost 458,000
  • Sprint lost 264,000
Total prepaid customers by carrier as of the end of last quarter were:

  • Tracfone 25.2 million
  • T-Mobile 18.44 million
  • Sprint 14.40 million
  • AT&T 12.17 million
  • Verizon 5.40 million
In summary, it was another killer quarter for T-Mobile. AT&T also did fairly well, although most of its growth came from less profitable connected devices. Verizon added relatively few new customers last quarter, but it was the most profitable of the four national operators. Sprint gained customers but lost money. Tellingly, most of Sprint's subscriber growth came from wholesale customers. I suspect  many of the new wholesale subscribers are on free RingPlus and FreedomPop plans which likely don't contribute much, if anything, to Sprint's bottom line.

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
Fourth Quarter 2015 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator


Comment Page :
  1. Good bye RUDE companies!! welcome to fell of Sprint and Tracfone! Haha!!

  2. If you just look at postpaid PHONE customer results for Q1 2016, the most profitable type of customers:
    T-Mobile gained 877,000 postpaid phone net add customers. Sprint scored 22,000 postpaid phone customers.
    Verizon lost 8,000 postpaid phone customers. AT&T bled 215,000 postpaid phone customers.
    T-Mobile won 98% of postpaid phone customer additions.

  3. Tracfone has so many subscribers ..really?. I havent seen anyone yet..

    1. How often do you check people's wireless service? They have BYOD with smartphones, so it would be indistinguishable from any other service. Tracfone customers are probably low income and urban based. StraightTalk is actually quite popular.

    2. 14 year Tracfone veteran....we live in hollow trees only slithering out on Moonless nights! Seriously, someone buys those cards and phones you see in all those stores. BYOD is very popular and often with expensive phones. The service is very versatile, but can get complicated for some. Could be much better if they improved the CS.

  4. I don't think AT&T's IoT adds should be counted as regular subscriber adds, since rev per IoT add is much smaller. Discounting IoT, AT&T's net add is only 229K, and VZ is actually doing better in terms of increasing its userbase. I'm curious to see how long VZ can keep up the walled garden and preserve its hedgemony. From eyeballing the numbers, ARPU looks to be constant.

    Assuming the US market is saturated, I'm also wondering if Tracfone's subscriber loss is emblematic of prepaid MVNOs as a whole, like you said, or whether the cause is only Tracfone's antiquated pricing structure. Do you have a sense of how the other MVNOs are doing?

    It would be good to calc ARPU guesstimates, and changes thereto, per carrier. It'd be tough for AT&T if it doesn't break out IoT separately.

    Thanks for the tabulation of the major operators' 10Qs.

    1. I can testify that the market is not saturated. I am on the sidelines looking. When they get to 5GB for $30 I will jump in.

  5. So basically it was another quarter where T-Mobile added more customers then the Big 2 but made no real profit from those customers. That's not how it's suppose to work.

    Verizon's CEO said a few years ago that selling unlimited data was a money loser. Looks like he was right. T-Mobile and Sprint both have unlimited data plans and both are not making a real profit from it.

    1. You're not paying attention. They spent about $4.2-4.5 Billion on the network last year, doubling LTE coverage by adding 1M square miles extra, and deploying Band 12 to 340 markets and more than 210 Milling people. And after continuing to spend at about that rate in Q1 and making their customers VERY happy with Binge On, T-Mo still made $497 Million this past quarter. You must be very wealthy to think that $479 M is "no real profit."
      T-Mobile did what no analysts said they could do: Expand the UnCarrier moves, continue expensive promotions, and still grow revenue and profits. Virtually everything they did worked better than they and the analysts projected. What successes would you un-do in the name of higher profit? Their CEO says they have to grow to succeed in the long run. You would slow investment and growth for short-term profits? Why? Just to brag?

    2. Unless the duopoly decide to lower their prices, I believe tmo will continue to grow and profits will increase. I think Sprint needs to offer unlimited to remain competitive.

    3. I predict that Sprint will kill off Sprint Prepaid when it re-brands Virgin Mobile this year. T-Mobile won the prepaid war with AT&T in Q1, with 61% more subscriber adds.

    4. Clearly you don't understand how the stock market works. $475 million dollars in profits for a company with a $33 Billion dollar market cap is really not anything to brag about. T-Mobile has been adding more customers than the other carriers for the past 6 quarters and has had very little to show for it. John L. has bragged repeatedly about T-Mobile subscriber growth. So it stands to reason that people should question what is T-Mobile the business getting from it.

    5. The majority of Wall Street analysts rate TMUS as a "Strong Buy". The assumption seems to be that P/E will improve as growth slows. Source: T-Mobile US, Inc. (TMUS) Analyst Research - NASDAQ.com

    6. "understand how the stock market works."
      You have a simplistic understanding of the stock market if you think profits are paramount in predicting market cap. Amazon has lost money virtually every quarter since they started, yet their stock trades with a high P/E. Growth potential is usually a much bigger influence on market cap than quarterly profits. E.G., T-Mobile and Amazon.

    7. Comparing Amazon's a Tech company lack of profits to T-Mobile which is a Telecom Company lack of profits is a Apples and Oranges comparsion.

      In the Telecom space, AT&T and Verizon are making profits. And they are judged by the profits they make. Telecom companies are judged by and expected to make profits.

      T-Mobile is a Telecom company. Not a Tech company.

  6. I don't think Sprint is going to be around as an independent Co. for much longer, they will need to merge with T-Mo, or sell outright to one of the cable operators.

    1. Sprint can't merge with T-Mobile; they tried and were shot down.

  7. I agree... Probably more likely the deal would be approved if it remained a separate network operating with a cable operating. The need for 4 cell networks is good for competition.

    1. Yes, consumers will suffer if there is no 4th network.

    2. I don't agree. A third, strong competitor is better than two weak ones. More customers for #3 means more efficient use of one network, and better leverage to negotiate great prices on phones, network gear, roaming and tower rent. And of course, the money and rationale to deploy better geographic coverage, which costs a lot.

  8. Here is a great article for Christine to copy/rewrite:

  9. T-Mobile Un-carrier 11 details are leaking. Tmo may give subscribers free Dominos pizza, Wendy's drinks and Vudu movie rentals every week, plus Tmo stock, via an app called T-Mobile Tuesdays. Subscribers will also have chances to win movie tickets, trips, and gift cards. June 6 is the estimated day of announcement.
    The Un-carrier 11 move will reportedly be marketed with the hashtag #GetThanked.


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