So Far, Wireless Data Looks Recession-proof

After taking a look at the earnings of the largest U.S. wireless carriers, it’s clear that growth in wireless data at the top carriers is still going strong, despite a recession. There are concerns that some of this is the result of holiday sales (all those new iPhones for Christmas), so we’ll keep an eye on next quarter’s numbers to see if folks are ditching their data plans so they can pay rent, or if the ongoing layoffs are resulting in disconnects as employers stop subsidizing plans.

Data revenue overall is growing, but that figure is being helped most by AT&T (s t); Verizon’s data revenue, meanwhile, appears to be slowing down. While all those holiday iPhones undoubtedly helped, AT&T actually took the lead in terms of wireless data spend for the entire fourth quarter — for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2005. For the year, Verizon still surpassed AT&T with data revenue of $10.7 billion compared to AT&T’s $10.6 billion.

With about 79 percent of its customers subscribing to a data plan, as compared to 46 percent of AT&T’s, Verizon (s vz) may be rushing its LTE plans not only for reasons I explained yesterday, but also to continue growing its wireless data business. Verizon could boost prices for the faster LTE services, or lower the cost of delivering data, and thus boost margins. It may also get innovative with its plans and services once it has access to more bandwidth.

AT&T Verizon
Amount made on wireless data in Q4 $3.07 billion $2.97 billion
Percent of revenue wireless data contributed for Q4 10% 12%
Percent of revenue wireless data contributed to in all of 2008 8.5% 11%
Year-over-year growth in wireless data 51% 44%
Growth in wireless data from Q3 to Q4 12% 6%