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U.S. Mobile Market: Highly Competitive, and the iPhone Still Rocks

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Pretty much everything you’ve read about the U.S. mobile industry is true: The networks suck — some more than others — and the iPhone (s aapl) is still a king-maker. Yet according to data collected by Wireless Intelligence, during the quarter ended Dec. 31 2009, 5.9 million net new subscribers signed up for wireless services, the highest number of new adds made during a three-month period in three years.

The battle for subscribers among carriers is best reflected in the recent moves made by Verizon (s VZ) and AT&T (s T). Verizon, which ended December 2009 with 91.2 million subscribers, has launched a slew of smartphones, including the much-hyped Motorola (s mot) Droid. The company also launched a nasty ad campaign to highlight AT&T’s network weakness. The net result: it added 2.2 million net new subscribers during the most recent quarter, the most since the third quarter of 2008. As Jon Groves, analyst with Wireless Intelligence, writes in the report:

In comparison, thanks in part to Apple’s iPhone, AT&T added 2.7 million net new subscribers, taking its total to 85.1 million.Head-to-head after stripping out reseller and wholesale net additions, Verizon reported 1.2 million net additions in 4Q09 against AT&T’s 900,000…However, the iPhone yet again remained a very strong proposition for AT&T, with 3.1 million iPhone account activations reported in the fourth quarter — the second-ever highest quarterly total – of which more than a third were new AT&T subscribers…The remaining operators continue to feel the squeeze outside of the device exclusivity and coverage available from AT&T/Verizon in the contract market and the ‘unlimited’ offerings from the likes of Straight Talk in the prepaid segment.

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

The growth during the quarter also masked some dangerous trends, however. As Chetan Sharma, a contributing analyst for GigaOM Pro, recently pointed out, during the last three months of 2009, “voice ARPU declined by a substantial 98 cents for U.S. carriers” and “data ARPU increased by a mere 4 percent to 53 cents as overall ARPU decreased 45 cents on the year.”


Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Everybody Hertz: The Looming Spectrum Crisis

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr user Rennett Stowe

8 Responses to “U.S. Mobile Market: Highly Competitive, and the iPhone Still Rocks”

  1. Charles

    Ah Tim, what a PC statement — as in Personally Challenged. You obviously have contempt for the iPhone and likely its users, even in the face of it’s amazing numbers. But to support Blackberry? They weren’t even mentioned here, likely since they are just one in what is quickly becoming many mobile multitasking tools.
    Can you say Google phone? Most businesses cannot, but since when does corporate America adapt quickly to change? Blackberry users still think getting email on their phones is a big deal. As the next two years wear on, the battle will come down to Google and iPhone, with the Blackberry business users slipping farther and farther onto the far fringes of mobile bliss.

    • still, more Blackberries were shipped in 4th quarter 2009 than iPhones, supposedly when the Apple’s overhype machine is working overtime for its iToy.

      • Charles

        You must be counting the “buy one, get one free” Blackberries that were promoted around the holidays, right? Funny, I don’t remember iPhones being desperate like that, likely because Apple understands that you don’t give away something that is in demand and highly desirable. And by the way, just because more people a product buy a product (or get it for free) doesn’t mean that the product is of good quality. Just look at the volume done by Wal-Mart.

      • Very few carriers worldwide did that “buy one, get one free” promotion, while the Apple overhype machine was relentless, and still Blackberry buried the iPhone. If the iPhone is so in demand and highly desirable, no need for Steve Jobs then to slash its price- and he did, to get it moving. And just because you have money to blow on overpriced Apple fashion trinkets, don’t knock Wal-Mart, an affordable shopping place for many working-class people.

      • Charles

        Ah Tim, again with the highest sales argument. As I wrote, a high volume of sales doesn’t mean a product is high quality. Most sold hamburgers? McDonald’s. Chicken? KFC. Pens? Bic. Computer OS? Windows.
        They’re all good. Just not great.
        You obviously have some pent up aggression against greatness, or uniqueness, or whatever and seek to minimize the iPhone’s abilities by calling it a toy, trinket, or whatever. So be it. Fact is, I can do everything with an iPhone that you can do with your Blackberry (except see Flash websites, if you can even do that). But then I can also do at least 100 more things that are valuable to me and every user I know.
        So try it. You’ll like it. And like nearly all of us, you’ll never turn back. Trust me.

      • This all started when I pointed out the fact that more Blackberries are shipped, it is THE kingmaker. The iToy is used by some Apple fanbois, and it’s ending up at a knock on KFC.

  2. Lilly Floes

    “U.S. Mobile Market: Highly Competitive…”

    Wow, one of the most misleading headlines I’ve ever read. Nothing in the post at all to support it.