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Fourth Quarter 2016 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator

Q4, 2016 Total Mobile Subscribers by Operator
The fourth quarter of 2016 was another 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 1.2 million postpaid, 541,000 prepaid, and 363,000 wholesale customers for a total gain of 2.1 million customers. That compares with gains of 1.97 million in Q3 2016 and 2.1 million a year ago in Q3 2015.
  • AT&T added 520,000 postpaid, 406,000 prepaid, and 1.27 million connected device subscribers, but lost 672,000 reseller customers for a total gain of 1.52 million subscribers vs gains of 1.53 million in Q3 2016 and 2.23 million in Q4 2015. AT&T blamed its loss of reseller customers on the shutdown of its 2G network.
  • Verizon added 591,000 postpaid connections but lost 9,000 prepaid customers for a total gain of 582,000 vs gains of 525,000 in Q3 2016 and 1.36 million in Q4 2015.
  • Sprint reported adding 405,000 postpaid and 673,000 wholesale customers but lost 501,000* prepaid users for a total gain of 577,000 customers vs gains of 740,000 in Q3 2016 and 491,000 million in Q4 2015.
* A footnote to Sprint's report say that "As a result of aligning all prepaid brands, including prepaid affiliate subscribers, under one churn and retention program as of December 31, 2016, end of period prepaid and affiliate subscribers were reduced by 1,234,000 and 21,000, respectively."  I take that to mean that Sprint had over 1.25 million mon-paying, inactive prepaid and affiliate customers on its rolls at the beginning of the quarter, which it finally removed. As a result Sprint's reported prepaid subscriber count for Q4, 2016 (11.81 million) is 1.7 million lower than the 13.5 million that Sprint reported in Q3, 2016.

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile were profitable last quarter. Sprint posted its ninth quarterly loss in a row.

  • Verizon made a profit of $4.6 billion last quarter compared with $3.74 billion in Q3 2016 and 5.51 billion a year ago in Q4 2015.
  • AT&T made $2.44 billion last quarter compared with $3.23 billion in Q3 2016 and $4.01 billion in Q4 2015.
  • T-Mobile made $390 million last quarter compared with $368 million in Q3 2016 and $297 million in Q3 2015.
  • Sprint lost $479 million compared with losses of $142 million in Q3 2016 and $836 million in Q4 2015.
Here's how the operators ranked by total subscribers at the end of the quarter:

  • Verizon 143 million*
  • AT&T 134.9 million
  • T-Mobile 71.5 million
  • Sprint 59.5 million
*Estimated. Verizon doesn't report wholesale customer numbers. Verizon reported 114.24 million retail connections at the end of Q4, 2016. I estimate that Verizon has approximately 143 million total subscribers, including wholesale connections.

América Móvil's Tracfone subsidiary lost 417,000 subscribers last quarter.  That compares with an acquisition driven gain of 1.2 million in Q3, 2016 and a loss of 58,000 in Q4, 2015. TracFone's gain in the Q3, 2016 quarter was entirely due to its purchase of Walmart Family Mobile and GoSmart which brought approximately 1.7 million customers to TracFone. TracFone's revenue was up 20.4% quarter over quarter and 7.9% year over year. TracFone operates the Straight Talk, NET10, Tracfone, Simple Mobile, Page Plus, Total Wireless, Telcel America, Walmart Family Mobile, GoSmart and SafeLink Wireless MVNO brands in the US.

Postpaid phone customers are generally much more profitable than tablet, connected device, prepaid and wholesale customers. Industry watchers put a lot of emphasis on postpaid phone customer gains and loses. T-Mobile once again lead the pack and added the most postpaid phone additions for the 12th consecutive quarter in a row. Only AT&T lost postpaid phone subscribers this last quarter.

  • T-Mobile added 993,000 postpaid phone customers 
  • Sprint added 368,000 
  • Verizon added 167,000
  • AT&T lost 67,000 
The number of branded prepaid customers increased by 20 thousand, the tenth quarterly increase in a row. The gains came from T-Mobile and AT&T as Verizon, TracFone and Sprint all lost prepaid customers.

  • T-Mobile added 541,000 prepaid subscribers
  • AT&T added 406,000
  • Verizon lost 9,000
  • TracFone lost 417,000
  • Sprint lost 501,000
Total prepaid customers by carrier as of the end of last quarter were:

  • Tracfone 26.1 million
  • T-Mobile 19.8 million
  • AT&T 13.54 million
  • Sprint 11.81 million
  • Verizon 5.45 million
In summary, T-Mobile once again lead the industry in all four main growth metrics: total customer adds, total postpaid adds, total postpaid phone adds and total prepaid additions. 2016 marked the third year in a row that T-Mobile added over 8 million customers. AT&T and Verizon are highly profitable but Verizon's growth has stagnated and AT&T lost lucrative postpaid phone subscribers as well as over 600 thousand wholesale customers. Money losing Sprint posted good postpaid subscriber growth but its prepaid business continues to slide. TracFone lost customers but increased revenue.

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

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
First Quarter 2016 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator
Second Quarter 2016 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator
Third Quarter 2016 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator


Comment Page :
  1. "Postpaid phone customers are generally much more profitable than tablet, connected device, prepaid and wholesale customers."

    Dennis, as far as T-Mobile is concerned, do you expect this observation/trend to significantly change now that their postpaid is taxes included?

    1. Yes, T-Mobile's "One" postpaid plan is more expensive than most of their prepaid plans. Postpaid customers typically finance their phones through the carrier which is also profitable and tends to tie the customer to the carrier until the phone is paid off.

  2. >TracFone lost customers but increased revenue.

    Dennis, can you explain this dichotomy? Did TracFone raise rates? Operational efficiency by consolidation?

    1. According to TracFone it's because customers are moving to more expensive plans. TracFone has also cut dealer commissions and dealer support has it moves increasingly to selling online and through national retailers.

  3. Verizon has new plans! 2gb $35 here i come

  4. There is no $35 plan, you have to add the $20 line fee.

  5. If you compare the net income with the number of subscribers added In Q4, Tmobile is under-performing!. There strategy seems to be focus on growth subscribers not profitability. It seems to me they are focusing in selling themselves and improve their image.

    1. Wrong. T-Mobile continues to make big investments in deploying its new spectrum holdings to expand and densify their network. Their improved network and superior perceived value is why Tmo's subscriber numbers continue to grow faster than anyone else by far.
      It's investment for future profitability, not short term. And all their new customers are profitable.

    2. What "new spectrum holdings?" Spotty AWS-3 pickups?

    3. @Anon 443 It will take them only 40 years to catch up to Big red and blue at the rate they are going.

    4. "It will take them only 40 years to catch up..."
      Faulty math, based on rate of Tmo growth and AT&T phone subscriber declines.

      Legere claims Tmo will catch AT&T in only 5 years, but that is best case:

    5. @anon 1202 except AT&T is still gaining subs. Legere math at its finest.

    6. This site is about phone news, not IoT. But even if you measure total wireless subscribers, AT&T have been stagnant over the past 6 years. They had 32% of wireless subscribers in Q1, 2011 and the have 32.38% at the end of Q3 2016, despite adding many millions of IoT devices and tablets.
      Tmo on the other hand had only 11% of wireless subs in Q1, 2011 and grew market share 53% as of Q3 2016, to 16.84% of wireless subscribers. This is almost all phone subscriber growth.
      To help you with the math, Tmo has gone from being about 1/3 the market share of AT&T to more than 1/2 the share in less than 6 years.
      Source: Statista
      Unless AT&T learns how to grow or T-Mobile growth slows dramatically, Legere WILL catch AT&T.

  6. T-Mobile fourth quarter results show service revenue grew 11 percent, net Income increased 31 percent, and earnings per share grew 32 percent year over year.

    Revenue of $10.18 billion was up 23 percent year over year and beat Wall Street estimates by more than $320 million. Earnings per share for the quarter also surpassed estimates by 17 cents.

    Full year results also showed growth, with 2016 service revenues up 12 percent to $27.8 billion, total revenues up 16 percent ot $37.2 billion, net income up 99 percent to $1.5 billion, and earnings per share that more than doubled (106 percent growth) to $1.69.

  7. Legere said T-Mobile is looking to open some 2,500 retail locations in 2017, including 1,000 T-Mobile stores and 1,500 MetroPCS locations. Legere said those openings would be heavily loaded into the first half of the year.

  8. "and 491,000 million in Q4 2015. "

  9. I hope TracFone will shut down near three years.

    1. Althought I don't care for them,they are competition to carrier owned prepaids providers and representive of the MVNO industry. We consumersneed as much competion (and choices) as possible. Prices with go up if we are left only with carrier owned services.

      "I hope TracFone will shut down near three years.

    2. "I hope TracFone will shut down near three years."

      Nope! Ain't happenin'! Buy their stock!! It'll double by Easter 2018. They are poised to pounce! The T-Mobile sim has been added to their sim-package ($9.99) along with Verizon/At&T & things are simply improving overall.


  10. whats a wholesale customer?

    1. Any business that buys mobile service in bulk and resells under their own brand. Mostly MVNOs but also manufacturers of connected cars, eBook readers, etc.

  11. does tmobile include metro pcs in their prepaid numbers and does att include cricket in theirs?

  12. Sprint has to add roaming! I'd totally be on Boost by now but only get coverage in the cities = not happening. I live in northeast Wisconsin. Sprint and t-mobile mvno's are not options at all and t-mobile doesn't have coverage of any kind where I live. At&t mvno's all the way!!

    1. If Sprint paid Vzw and US Cellular for Boost roaming, you would not like the price and would not pick them.
      T-Mobile, Ting GSM and Consumer Cellular/Tmo have free voice and text roaming on AT&T and maybe a regional carrier where you live.
      Ting CDMA and Twigby roam free on Vzw there as well.

  13. What about US Cellular?

  14. Us cellular has great coverage, for sure the best up north, but they're much more expensive. Even their prepaid is about half the data of cricket. And AT&T mvno's still gets more than decent coverage up north.

  15. No Sprint means loss of a competitor = high prices . Hope that they survive.

  16. I wasn't sure where to put this comment.I was shopping at a Dollar General(I'm in South Carolina), and they sell Total Wireless phones. No phone cards, just the phones.They had the ZTE Citirine, LG Premier, and LG Rebel. I thought that Total Wireless products were only sold at Walmart. Does anyone know if this has changed?

    1. i was at a target, yes target and not walmart, last night and they had total wireless sim kits for $1 on the shelf and the $35 recharge cards next to them too but absolutely no phones for sale. i guess total wireless is going to be offered all over

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