New wireless subscribers down sharply at AT&T

New wireless subscribers down sharply at AT&T

Credit: AP

FILE - In this file photo made Oct. 20, 2009, people walk through the Northshore Mall beyond near an AT&T kiosk, in Peabody, Mass. AT&T Inc. will stop letting new customers sign up for its unlimited Internet data plan for smart phones and iPads, hoping to ease congestion on its network by charging the people who use the most data more.(AP Photo/Lisa Poole, file)

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by Associated Press

WCNC.com

Posted on April 24, 2012 at 10:00 AM

NEW YORK (AP) -- When Verizon Wireless started selling the iPhone, AT&T sounded a defiant note, saying that its customers would remain loyal. A year later, it's clear that the Verizon iPhone has crimped AT&T's stride.

Verizon, the country's largest wireless carrier, had little problem attracting new customers before it started selling the iPhone. In fact, it was the only one that managed to keep up with AT&T's iPhone-fueled growth.

But with the iPhone in its arsenal, the country's biggest wireless company is getting bigger, while No. 2 AT&T's growth has slowed precipitously.

On Tuesday, AT&T revealed that it essentially gained no phone subscribers on contract-based plans in the first quarter. That's only happened once before: A year ago, when Verizon launched its version of the iPhone.

Contract-based plans are by far the most lucrative for a phone company, and the number of new customers is an important measure of growth.

AT&T gained a net 187,000 customers on contract-based plans in the January to March period, but these were almost all tablet users, brought in by the launch of the new iPad in March. Even on contract-based plans, tablet customers pay between $15 and $50 per month, whereas smartphone customers often pay more than $100.

By contrast, Verizon last week reported adding 501,000 subscribers on contract-based plans.

Over the last five quarters, Verizon has added nearly three times as many contract subscribers as AT&T. Over the previous two years, the rivals split new subscribers nearly evenly.

AT&T gained a net 726,000 subscribers of all kinds in the first quarter, counting ones on no-contract plans and ones on non-phone devices like the Kindle. That was the lowest figure in eight years, and less than a third of the number of subscribers added in the same period last year.

Weak subscriber figures are usually good for a phone company's earnings in the short term, since it doesn't have to subsidize new devices.

The Dallas-based company's net income for the January to March period was $3.6 billion, or 60 cents per share, up 5 percent from $3.4 billion, or 57 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts polled by FactSet were on average expecting earnings of 57 cents per share for the latest quarter

Revenue was $31.8 billion, up 2 percent from a year earlier. It matched analyst expectations.

AT&T shares rose 36 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $30.97 in premarket trading. The shares are close to a four-year high of $31.97 hit a month ago.

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