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Fourth Quarter, 2017 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator

4th Quarter, USA 2017 Mobile Subscribers By Operator
The fourth quarter of 2017 was a good one for US mobile operators. AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint all gained total customers last quarter and all were profitable.

Subscriber growth:
  • AT&T gained 541,000 postpaid, 140,000 prepaid and 2.589 million connected device customers but lost 529,000 reseller (MVNO) customers for a total gain of 2.74 million domestic subscribers vs gains of 2.32 million in Q3 2017 and 1.55 million a year ago in Q4 2016.
  • T-Mobile added 1.1 million postpaid, 149,000 prepaid customers, and 633,000 wholesale customers for a total gain of 1.85 million customers. That compares with gains of 1.33 million in Q3 2017 and 1.97 million in Q4 2016.
  • Verizon added 1.17 million postpaid connections and lost 184,000 prepaid customers for a total gain of 990,000 vs gains of 742,000 in Q3 2017 and 582,000 in Q4 2016.
  • Sprint reported adding 256,000 postpaid, 63,000 prepaid and 66,000 wholesale customers for a total gain of 385,000 customers vs gains of 378,000 in Q3 2017 and 594,000 million in Q4 2016.
Profits: 

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint were all very profitable last quarter. The carriers credit their vastly improved profitability to the 2018 corporate tax cuts. Although the tax cuts don't take effect until 2018, they somehow affect Q4, 2017 earnings. I don't know why this is the case, maybe an accountant can explain it, I can't.
  • AT&T made $19.04 billion last quarter compared with $3.03 billion in Q3 2017 and $2.44 billion in Q2 2016.
  • Verizon made a profit of $18.77 billion last quarter compared with $3.62 billion in Q3 2017 and $4.50 billion a year ago in Q4 2016.
  • Sprint made $7.2 billion compared with a loss of $48 million in Q3 2017 and a loss of $479 million in Q4 2016.
  • T-Mobile made $2.7 billion last quarter compared with $550 million in Q3 2017 and $390 million in Q4 2016.
Subscribers:

Here's how the operators ranked by total subscribers at the end of the quarter:
  • Verizon 145.3 million*
  • AT&T 141.6 million
  • T-Mobile 72.6 million
  • Sprint 54.6 million
*Estimated. Verizon doesn't report wholesale or connect device customer numbers. Verizon reported 116.3 million retail connections at the end of Q4, 2017. I estimate that Verizon has approximately 10 million (MVNO) and 19 million connected device (cars and IoT) customers for a total of 145.3 million total subscribers.

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.  For the 15th consecutive quarter, T-Mobile lead the pack with the most postpaid phone additions.
  • T-Mobile added 891,000 postpaid phone customers
  • Sprint added 184,000
  • Verizon added 431,000
  • AT&T added 329,000
Prepaid and MVNO subscribers:

América Móvil's Tracfone subsidiary lost 685,000 SafeLink subscribers last quarter but gained 74,00 customers with its other brands for a total loss of 611,000. That compares with a loss of 636,000 in Q3, 2017 and a loss of 417,00 in Q4, 2016.

América Móvil does not break out profit or loss by country, but its Q4, 2017 US EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) were $145 million, compared with $141 million in in Q3, 2017 and $219 million in Q4, 2016 .  TracFone blamed the 26.4% EBDITA year over year decline on the SafeLink subscriber losses plus "aggressive competition in our segment, and a new blend of clients".

On its worldwide operations América Móvil suffered a loss of 11.3 billion Mexican pesos ($61 million), which it blamed on damage to facilities and subscriber loss in Puerto Rico from hurricane Maria.

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.

    The number of branded prepaid customers fell by 443 thousand last quarter as a result of  big subscriber losses at Verizon and Tracfone.
    • AT&T added 140,000 prepaid subscribers. 
    • T-Mobile added 149,000
    • Sprint added 63,000
    • Verizon lost 184,000
    • TracFone lost 611,000
    Total branded prepaid customers by carrier as of the end of last quarter were:
    • Tracfone 23.1 million
    • T-Mobile 20.7 million
    • AT&T 15.34 million
    • Sprint 9.0 million
    • Verizon 5.40 million
    Wholesale (MVNO) customers reported by mobile operators increased by 170,000 last quarter: 

    Wholesale customers are mainly prepaid MVNO customers. Last quarter:
    • T-Mobile gained 633,000 wholesale customers
    • Sprint gained 66,000
    • AT&T lost 529,000
    • Verizon doesn't report wholesale subscriber numbers.

    Total Wholesale (MVNO) customers as of 12/31/17 are about 47 million, distributed as follows:
    • T-Mobile 13.87 million
    • Sprint 13.64 million
    • Verizon 10 million est.
    • AT&T 9.37 million
    Half of those 47 million wholesale customers are with Tracfone, the other half are spread around 100 or so independent MVNOs.

    There are approximately 97.44 million total prepaid (branded and MVNO) subscribers in the US as of 12/31/2017. That means prepaid customers account for 23.5% of the 414.1 million current big four mobile network lines of service.

    In summary, All four national carriers gained customers last quarter and all were profitable. Once again the bulk of AT&T's growth was in low revenue connected devices. TracFone lost customers again and its EBITDA declined year over year. In spite of MVNO loses at TracFone and AT&T NVNOs, the MVNO business seems surprisingly resilient, although I suspect most independent MVNO customers are on low margin plans costing between $5 and $30 a month.

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

    Related posts:
    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
    Fourth Quarter 2016 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator
    First Quarter 2017 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator
    Second Quarter 2017 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator
    Third Quarter 2017 Prepaid Mobile Subscriber Numbers By Operator

    20 comments:

    Comment Page :
    1. AT&T Prepaid Phone Net Adds including Cricket was actually only 85,000 last qtr (not including the connected devices)

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. I see what you mean. Footnote 18 on page 8 refers to page 14 which states "Effective 7/1/17, prepaid internet of things (IoT) connections are presented within the prepaid category. These connections primarily relate to customers that actively subscribe for vehicle connectivity. This resulted in 97 thousand additional prepaid net adds in 3Q17 with a corresponding decline in connected device net adds. The 3Q17 prepaid subscriber base was adjusted by 543 thousand connections with a corresponding decline in the connected device subscriber base to reflect subscriber activity prior to 3Q17. Prior periods not restated.". Sneaky. Also it doesn't say how many of the Q4 prepaid adds were connected devices, only Q3. Corporate financials are full of sneaky stuff like that.

        Delete
      2. So ATT is counting postpaid connected device customers as prepaid customers instead of postpaid customers? While this seems very "creative" it still is trivial compared to TMO not counting 4.6 million wholesale losses. I wonder if Verizon and Sprint have been creative too?

        Delete
      3. No, AT&T is combining prepaid connected devices with prepaid phones as a single line item.
        AT&T postpaid connected devices still get a separate line item and are included in the postpaid total as before.

        Sprint and T-Mobile stopped reporting both wholesale and branded Lifeline customers a couple of quarters ago. Verizon has never reported wholesale or connected device customers.

        Delete
    2. Nice profit for Sprint compared to the 2 quarters you mentioned after.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. T-Mobile's profits for Q4 2016 are listed above as "$390 million-million"

        Wow! That's $390 TRILLION in profit. ;-)

        Delete
      2. Maybe they will survive after all.

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    3. I'm very happy for Sprint. We need more competition to keep costs down for consumers. What does Sprint need to do to make the big jump?

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Sprint just sent us a free MagicBox wireless small cell for our home. It doubled our signal strength and LTE download and upload speeds inside and outside our house. MagicBox is portable, and can also run off the 4,000 mAH PowerBank battery pack they included. The battery pack can also charge all my devices with the included adapters.
        MagicBox is a nice complement to our free Sprint Unlimited BYOD plans. We have to return it to Sprint if we cancel service. If it fails, they will replace it unless we damaged it.

        Delete
      2. What does the magic box do to your latency?

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      3. Jitter - 11-20ms
        Ping - 36-71ms

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    4. Are Cricket Wireless customers ATT branded customers ?
      Boost, Virgin Movible -Sprint branded customers ?
      MetroPCS - T-mobile branded customers ?

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

      Tracfone 23.1 million
      T-Mobile 20.7 million
      AT&T 15.34 million
      Sprint 9.0 million
      Verizon 5.40 million

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. The brands you are asking about are carrier owned and reported as branded prepaid by their respective owners.

        Delete
    5. Tracfone has a very good Olympics commercial: ‘For moments that matter.’

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Looks like they are going to need it!

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      2. Who is Cricket targeting with the 'dancing bugs' commercials? People who are high on something strong?

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    6. the “most aggressive promotion in the history of the U.S. wireless industry.” was just extended through April.

      https://www.fiercewireless.com/wireless/sprint-renews-free-year-service-promotion-through-april

      ReplyDelete
    7. USA population is approx 325 million
      Total number of wireless lines of service is 414.1 million.
      Do some folks use 2 lines? Or are they wireless robots (such as remote diagnostics)?
      I actually know people with one company-provided line + one private line.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Some people have multiple phone lines but their are probably almost as many IoT devices as phones. Connected cars, shipment tracking, surveillance cameras, tank level and industrial process monitoring etc.

        Delete
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