U.S. Carriers Are Running Out of Growth Options

It’s hard to grow in a saturated market, but despite 89 percent cell phone penetration in the U.S., AT&T (s t) managed to pull out some impressive revenue growth over the past three years, not because it has the iPhone (s aapl) but because it’s been buying other companies. We’ve written about AT&T’s dependence on the iPhone, but this chart from TeleGeography illustrating AT&T’s sales growth over the period — on par with service providers in countries where cell phone subscribers are still growing — is tied primarily to Ma Bell’s acquisitions.

The companies found in the lower part of the chart, which operate in saturated Western Europe markets, are a glimpse of the future for AT&T and even Verizon (s vz) as U.S. companies run out of acquisition targets. The carriers hope that machine-to-machine communications will save them, but they’re still searching for the right business model as well as compelling applications. I suppose if times get too tough, there’s always Sprint (s S).

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