If you want to see contrasting approaches to how major wireless carriers handle acquisitions, you needn’t look much further than how AT&T and T-Mobile are handling their respective purchases of Leap Wireless and MetroPCS. Both AT&T and T-Mobile are cannibalizing their acquisitions for valuable spectrum, of course, but T-Mobile actually seems to see some value in keeping Metro’s customers.
T-Mobile has already shut down Metro’s CDMA and LTE network in three cities — Las Vegas, Boston and Hartford, Conn. — but the carrier told FierceWireless it’s managed to keep 92 percent of the MetroPCS customers in those markets on its subscriber rolls. T-Mobile said it gave affected customers three months warning and replaced their CDMA devices for GSM/LTE equivalents at little or no cost. T-Mobile is now in the process of shutting down CDMA in Philadelphia, targeting a Sept. 30 sunset date.
Meanwhile AT&T hasn’t even begun shutting down Leap’s CDMA networks, but Leap’s Cricket Communications customers are already leaving in droves. In its second quarter earnings call, AT&T reported a net loss of 405,000 prepaid subscribers, most of them fleeing Cricket customers.
“Reported” is perhaps a bit of exaggeration, since on its call AT&T chose to focus on its “record-breaking” postpaid subscriber additions and churn rates. The loss of nearly one tenth of Leap’s subscriber base in just the first three months since its acquisition didn’t really seem to bother AT&T much at all.
AT&T hasn’t entirely left former Cricket customers hanging. It’s been offering them replacement GSM/LTE phones, but those devices just happen to be trade-in smartphones left over by customers in AT&T’s Next upgrade program. Nothing quite says “I value you” like a premium customer’s discarded handset.
T-Mobile won’t report its Q2 earnings for another week, so we’ll see if the recent MetroPCS network shutdowns ate into its subscriber growth. But so far it seems to be doing a better job managing its operational integration than AT&T. While prepaid gains for T-Mobile were flat in in first two quarters after the MetroPCS buy, T-Mobile went on a tear over the last six months, adding 465,000 net new prepaid customers in the first quarter alone.