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Summary:

Who leads the U.S. in mobile subscribers? According to mobile analyst Chetan Sharma, it’s now a neck-and-neck race between AT&T and Verizon who collectively controls 68 percent of the market.

Number 1 foam hands rankings
photo: Shutterstock / Kittisak

Ever since it acquired Alltel back in 2009, Verizon has been indisputably at the top of the U.S. mobile carrier heap in terms of subscribers. But AT&T is again vying for that top spot, thanks to its recent acquisition of regional operator Leap Wireless, according to a new report by Chetan Sharma Consulting.

At the end of the first quarter, AT&T and Verizon both controlled 34 percent of the mobile subscriptions in the U.S., according to Sharma’s estimates. It’s hard to pin exact numbers on those carriers, though, since both report subscribers differently.

Source: Chetan Sharma Consulting

At the end of March, AT&T had 116 million total connections, but that number includes all of its wholesale subscribers (those that connect with one of AT&T’s mobile virtual network operator partners) and machine-to-machine links attached to cars, gadgets and other devices in the internet of things. Verizon doesn’t report any of those numbers. It only reveals business and consumer retail subscribers buying their service directly from Verizon. That number totaled 103 million.

If you only factored in AT&T’s retail prepaid and postpaid customers you would get 85.1 million, but AT&T has a substantially larger wholesale business Verizon. So by Sharma’s calculations just as many people are connecting their phones and tablets and hotspots to AT&T’s network as Verizon.

Any way you look at it, these two carriers are huge. They collected control 68 percent of the U.S. wireless market. It’s also interesting to note that if Sprint were to merge with T-Mobile – as Sprint’s new chairman Masayoshi Son is so keen on doing – the two would hold a combined 30 percent of the U.S. mobile market.

That’s still smaller than either Big Red or Ma Bell, but definitely qualifies as a mega-carrier. And it doesn’t leave much room for the other guys. The 125 or so regional and rural carriers in the U.S. accounted for a meager 2 percent of all mobile subscriptions.

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  1. Go AT&T !!!

  2. William Diaz Friday, May 30, 2014

    Personally, I think having two smaller carriers keeps a check and balances in place. Honestly, the customers on TMobile and Sprint are doing so for rate plans, pricing options and urban coverage more than buying into a fear of “what if’s”.. The what if I go to Wyoming and need cell coverage? The what if I am driving and get a flat tire in Nebraska? The average American using wireless uses it 85% of the time within 150 miles of home, with a few visits outside that area during a typical contract term. Paying, or subsidizing for coverage where you not only will never use it, but don’t need it really can be costly and neither Verizon or AT&T are willing to budge on this idea of 100% of customers NEED coverage everywhere and need to pay for it. With that said, Sprint has a terrible network in urban areas and has really shown that rural coverage is its strong point, giving Verizon a run for its money. TMobile is converting 2G to 4G LTE overnight in many of its rural areas, where as AT&T had only deployed HSPA+21, still slower than TMobile HSPA+42 in these same areas. Giving it too a run for the money. Let’s be honest here, keeping two smaller carriers competing on a national scale, with two mega carriers is fantastic, it has increased competition and brought awareness to consumers how the industry works and can be. In Europe, carriers are similar but all sell a plan, a price, and a service that sets each carrier apart. In America, the last 10 years has been all about copying each other but in the most consumer unfriendly ways, but while a lot remains the same, choice and contract free service has made it much easier to see past a lot of the bull. Two smaller carriers made this happen. One just got bought out, and should be rebuilding itself before attempting to take on another carrier as its own. The other is a power house that is driving innovation and is almost too big to be thought of merging as an equal. Point blank, two smaller carriers keep the check and balances rather than locking in the major carriers deeds and freedoms to do anything without regulation.

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