What is Happening with Service Provider Mobile Phone Market Share?

It is difficult to determine precisely how mobile phone share is changing in the U.S. market, in large part because a vast majority of actual new accounts in the market represent connections of tablets, not phones.

But T-Mobile US is the clear winner in phone account market share.

Sprint and Verizon actually lost postpaid phone accounts in the first quarter of 2014, while AT&T gained about 312,000 net postpaid phone accounts.

But T-Mobile US gained a net total of 1.8 million branded new accounts, including branded postpaid net additions of over 1.3 million. Only about 67,000 of those net adds were tablet connections.

In the first quarter of 2014, for example, Verizon Wireless, which had added more than two million net accounts in the fourth quarter of 2013, experienced a huge slowdown, adding just 539,000 net new accounts.

But note, Verizon actually lost 138,000 monthly postpaid phone customers in the first quarter. In other words, all of Verizon’s growth came from tablets, not phones.

AT&T gained about 625,000 net new postpaid accounts, of which about 313,000 were tablet connections.

The point is that account growth in the overall market was in the first quarter of 2014 driven by just two trends: T-Mobile phone gains and tablet connection gains at Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

T-Mobile US, and to a lesser extent AT&T, were taking share of phone accounts while Verizon and Sprint were losing share.

To the extent there was net growth of subscribers at Verizon, it was because of tablet connections.

That suggests the T-Mobile US marketing attack is working, and that even Verizon, which had hoped to avoid losses, now has to react, as it also is losing phone market share.

The complicating factor is that two separate trends have to be separated, namely market share shifts in the crucial postpaid phone segment, as well as the growing connected tablet trend. “Net addition” trends, in other words, will have to be separated into phone and tablet accounts, to judge what is happening in terms of service provider market share.

That also applies to T-Mobile US expectations about its own market share growth. T-Mobile US CEO John Legere has suggested T-Mobile US, with 49 million customers, could reach 75 million subscribers in 12 months.  

That would require adding about 26 million net new subscribers, about 6.5 million a quarter, something no mobile service provider has done since perhaps 2008.

Ignoring for the moment prepaid subscriber accounts or average revenue per account or average revenue per user, Verizon has something more than 95 million postpaid contract accounts.

AT&T has more than 72 million. Sprint has about 30 million customers, while T-Mobile US serves something more than 22 million postpaid accounts.

But T-Mobile US serves as many as 47 million accounts, including prepaid accounts.

In the second quarter of 2013, Verizon had more than 118 million total subscriptions in service, while AT&T had nearly 108 million. Sprint had more than 53 million.

Were T-Mobile US to even approach 75 million total accounts, it is likely that gains would be driven by prepaid and tablet net new additions.

On the other hand, if current net additions trends continue, T-Mobile will pass Sprint, for the first time, to take the third position for U.S. mobile market share, within a year.

But mobile share increasingly is not the same thing as phone postpaid accounts, phone accounts including both postpaid and prepaid accounts. And that means future analysis of U.S. mobile market share will have to pay attention to phone and tablet accounts, in addition to postpaid and prepaid accounts.


U.S. Mobile Subscriber Share
Q2 2013 (ranking by subscribers, retail + wholesale)
source: Strategy Analytics
Carrier
Subscribers (millions)
1
118.194
2
AT&T
107.884
3
Sprint
53.258
4
T-Mobile US
44.016


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