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Summary:

The prepaid market continued to expand in the fourth quarter of 2009 thanks to a price war that seems to get more brutal by the week. Meanwhile, AT&T and Verizon Wireless built on their dominance with postpaid subscribers.

The prepaid guys pummeled each other during the fourth quarter of 2009 while the nation’s two largest carriers enjoyed their view from the throne. Users continued to move toward prepaid thanks to an ultra-competitive prepaid market that encourages users to switch providers at the drop of a hat. Leap, MetroPCS, T-Mobile USA and Sprint claimed a combined 1.5 million net prepaid adds during the period, showing strong momentum of a trend that picked up steam last summer. But that growth had mixed results on the bottom line: Leap posted a wider loss for the quarter despite lowering its churn from the previous three-month period thanks partly to cheaper plans, while MetroPCS doubled its profits during the period as churn dropped.

Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless and AT&T — the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 carrier, respectively — continued to expand their bases of postpaid users at the expense of T-Mobile (which lost 117,000 contract customers during the period) and Sprint (which lost more than a half-million postpaid users). Verizon got a boost from the debut of the Motorola Droid, of course, which benefited from a $100 million marketing push. And AT&T — which did little during the quarter aside from working to shore up its inferior network – once again managed to post an industry-leading average revenue per user thanks to the iconic iPhone. It will be interesting to see whether AT&T and Verizon can continue to add subscribers this quarter after rolling out new price plans that effectively create two tiers of competition among postpaid providers.

Leap Wireless: Reported Feb. 26
Wireless Service Revenue: $547 million
Operating Income: 4.5 million
Wireless Data Revenue: N/A
Net Prepaid Subscriber Adds: 297,000
Total Subscribers: 4.95 million
Prepaid Churn: 4.7 percent
Prepaid ARPU: $38.66
Metro PCS: Reported Feb. 25
Wireless Revenue: $930 million
Income from operations: 130 million
Wireless Data Revenue: N/A
Net Prepaid Subscriber Adds: 317,255
Total Subscribers: 6.6 million
Prepaid Churn: 5.3 percent
Prepaid ARPU: $40.70
T-Mobile: Reported Feb. 5
Wireless Revenue: $5.4 billion
Wireless Net Income: 306 million
Wireless Data Revenue: N/A
Net Prepaid Subscriber Adds: 488,000
Total Subscribers: 33.8 million
Blended Churn: 3.2 percent
Postpaid ARPU: $52
Sprint: Reported Feb. 10
Wireless Revenue: $6.8 billion
Wireless Operating Loss: 635 million
Wireless Data Revenue: N/A
Net Prepaid Subscriber Adds: 435,000
Net Postpaid Subscriber Loss: 504,000
Total Subscribers: 48.1 million
Churn: Postpaid 2.11 percent, prepaid 5.56 percent
ARPU: Postpaid $55, prepaid $31
Verizon: Reported Jan. 26
Wireless Revenue: $15.7 billion
Wireless Operating Income: 3.6 billion
Wireless Data Revenue: 3.9 billion
Net Prepaid and Postpaid Subscriber Adds: 2.2 million
Total Subscribers: 91.2 million
Churn: Postpaid 1.06 percent
ARPU: Postpaid $50.75
AT&T: Reported Jan. 28
Wireless Revenue: $13.8 billion
Wireless Operating Income: 3.4 billion
Wireless Data Revenue: 3.9 billion
Net Prepaid Subscriber Adds: N/A
Net Postpaid Subscriber Adds: 910,000
Total Subscribers: 85.1 million
Blended Churn: 1.44 percent
ARPU: Postpaid $61.13

Image courtesy Flickr user Daniel Y. Go.

  1. Very nice breakdown of pre-paid and post-paid wireless revenues. Thanks! Will be interesting to see how much the hungry cannibals in the prepaid market can eat away at the big guys who must continue to move upstream into the smartphone market.

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  2. [...] Colin Gibbs, at GigaOM, wrote a great blog: Q4 Wireless Scorecard: It’s Good to be King, in which he provides a breakdown of key figures from the major US wireless operators. Extracting [...]

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  3. Colin – Thanks for pulling these numbers out and presenting them so clearly. Having gone through quarterly and annual reports myself, I know this is often not an easy task!

    As I looked at this, it seemed to be that a second level of analysis might be useful as well, given that most people aren’t familiar with the financial impact of churn or on deriving the “value” of a Net Add. I took your numbers and expanded on them in the hopes of broadening the discussion. You are able to see this work at: http://www.3gspeedtest.com/2010/03/02/of-churn-arpu-and-value-of-net-add/

    Best regards,
    Martin Suter

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  4. [...] Q4 Wireless Scorecard: It’s Good to Be the King Subscribe By Email [...]

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  5. [...] You can drill down into individual wireless carriers numbers by checking out the GigaOM Q4 Wireless Scorecard. [...]

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  6. [...] Middle Manager: Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, has thrived by maintaining as much control as possible over its rock-solid network. Despite promising two years [...]

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  7. Well I’ll be posting this on every blog on the WEB and going to the News and possibly suing as well………Metro locations are signing customers up with plans that they are not requesting or never wanted in the beginning. Except wanting what they have stated and commercialize that they provide unlimited features and low payments. They are also stating that a phone with certain features must be purchased in order to use them and they are stating through their 888 customer care that Navigation is no longer being used through Metro, a very big reason why I purchased the Phone Model I have SAMSUNG and now am being told that the plan I want isn’t the one I was signed up for when I was infact told that I needed to pay a certain price for a first time activation which according to Metro isn’t true but is exactly what did happened. Ding Ding Round #1

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  8. [...] records for the EVO come at a perfect time for Sprint, which lost 504,000 post-paid customers in the most recently reported quarter and currently has a higher churn rate than both AT&T and Verizon. The question now is, how many [...]

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  9. [...] be the carrier’s top-selling phone this year. I still wonder to what degree the EVO will help stem the loss of Sprint subscribers, however. My tweeting and other informal social research indicates that most EVO customers are [...]

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  10. [...] the power of the two dominant carriers because they will continue to get the best handsets and thus keep attracting more customers — in spite of poor network performance or some of the highest prices in the [...]

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