Light Reading

T-Mobile Not Stealing Customers… Yet

Sarah Thomas
4/3/2014
50%
50%

Are T-Mobile's "uncarrier" ways helping it steal customers from its competitors? If you follow the boisterous claims of its CEO, you'd think US consumers are chomping at the bit to tear up their contracts and join the magenta movement. But the numbers suggest that's not the case, or at least not yet.

According to the latest consensus estimates for wireless subscriber growth, which T-Mobile US Inc. provided to industry financial analyst Craig Moffett as part of its quarterly survey of sell-side estimates, the industry as a whole gained 800,000 postpaid customers in the past three months.

So where are these nearly one million customers coming from? For now, some could be from the smaller operators, upgrading to a smartphone and a tier-one provider for the first time. Others are likely tablet subscriptions or other non-mobile postpaid users. But, increasingly, these customers have to be coming from other big carriers, which means additions can't stay that high for long.

In fact, I'm surprised they have so far. The level of promotions in the wireless industry has to be at an all-time high. In the past week alone, Verizon Wireless dropped prices on its More Everything plans to match AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s offer of four lines and 10GB of data for $40 per line per month, and today it's offering up 1GB of free data to tablet customers on the plan. (See AT&T Joins Verizon in the Shared Data Pool.)

When you add in Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s Framily plans, and T-Mobile's device financing, lower international rates, free tablet data, early termination fee offer, and the other three's responses to nearly all these moves, it's hard not to foresee a lot of customer grabbing going on. (See T-Mobile to Pick Up 'Evil' Family Fees, Sprint Launches No-Sharing 'Framily' Plans, AT&T Lures T-Mobile Subs With $450 Promise, Look Inside T-Mobile's 'Uncarrier' Transformation, T-Mobile Kills Contracts, Launches LTE Network, and T-Mobile Zeros In on Tablets.)

That said, it hasn't yet erupted into an all-out price war. While the operators have tweaked their offers and repackaged how they price, the actual prices haven't come plummeting down. Their earnings haven't been affected yet either. But going forward, they will likely come at the expense of subscriber growth, if not revenues. (See Verizon's 4G Strength Keeps It Above the Fray.)

Moffett says that consensus expectations for 2014 post-paid net adds have fallen at Verizon from 3.53 million nine months ago to less than 3 million today, and from 1.4 million six months ago at AT&T to 1.2 million today. For Sprint, postpaid subscriber losses in 2014 have more than doubled over the past three months to 617,000. T-Mobile, meanwhile, continues to grow -- from 1.3 million three months ago up to 2.9 million additions expected today. Incredibly, a year ago, T-Mobile's estimates were only for 50,000 postpaid subscriber additions this year. (See T-Mobile Leads, Sprint Suffers in Pricing Wars.)

That growth has to come from somewhere. But as Moffett points out, the estimates have to be off base. He writes, "At Verizon, consensus estimates for churn has ticked up by 2 bps [basis points] over the past three months, AT&T’s has increased 3 bps, Sprint’s, 8 bps, and T-Mobile’s fell by 4 bps. Street estimates, in other words, seem to imply that the TMUS’s subscriber gains are largely coming out of thin air, and that the big four’s recent promotion wars have really only resulted in, well, more customers for everyone."

At some point, that can't last, and it might just take an all-out price war to tip the scales. T-Mobile has made moves in that direction, and Sprint's new boss, SoftBank Corp. CEO Masayoshi Son, has promised one if he's able to acquire the Uncarrier. So far, there's more of price squabble in the US, but as T-Mobile's consensus estimates prove, a lot can change in a very short amount of time.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

(29)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
SarahReedy
50%
50%
SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/3/2014 | 3:04:53 PM
Uncarrier moves
Going back through to add all those links on past T-Mobile moves reminded me just how much it has done in such a short period of time. A lot of its pricing changes were more about changing the structure and promotions, but there were also some significant price drops in there. It'll be interesting to see how the market continues to evolve in pricing and plans going forward. 
SarahReedy
50%
50%
SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/3/2014 | 3:07:24 PM
Next pricing trend?
Any thoughts on what the next big pricing shake up or trend will be? My money is on more toll-free/sponsored data-type partnerships.
mendyk
50%
50%
mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/3/2014 | 3:28:16 PM
More fun with numbers
If churn is up at competitors but down at T-Mobile, doesn't that suggest that there's more than thin air at play? Also, the fact that competitors have lowered expectations for net adds while T-Mobile is increasing its net adds also indicates something positive is happening.
SarahReedy
50%
50%
SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/3/2014 | 3:31:08 PM
Re: More fun with numbers
True, it's just not happening as much as you might expect yet. Adding 800,000 in total is still pretty good for the industry. It'd be lower if they were just trading customers.
mendyk
50%
50%
mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/3/2014 | 3:40:28 PM
Re: More fun with numbers
The subscriber war of attrition is a less violent but equally pointless analog to trench warfare in World War I. Gain two points, lose three. Gain two back, lose one. Etc.
SarahReedy
50%
50%
SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
4/3/2014 | 3:43:19 PM
Re: More fun with numbers
That could change with a real price war of the likes Son is promising. "Let's fight back! Let's fight back!"
mendyk
50%
50%
mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/3/2014 | 3:47:43 PM
Re: More fun with numbers
Winning customers through unsustainable pricing rarely works as a long-term strategy. So the question is whether there's enough real margin in current prices to sweat things down. I will guess that any too-good-to-be-true price plan will be exactly that -- a lowball bait price that will require a good portion of hidden extras.
TaraSeals
50%
50%
TaraSeals,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/3/2014 | 4:51:56 PM
Re: More fun with numbers
I agree, Mendyk, and I also think that unlike long-distance or home phone service, wireless from an infrastructure perspective of course has a completely different cost structure, so the race to zero specter really isn't feasible. That said, my prediction is that going forward voice will always be the loss leader...while video and plans oriented around accessing video (to your point about app-oriented plans, Sarah) will become more and more attractive.

I think T-Mobile's genius  is in its positioning as being above the AT&T-Verizon fray; it's a little younger, a little hipper...and definitely has more whimsy than Sprint (and incidentally, that Framily campaign bothers me to no end--next thing you know it will introduce a multilevel marketing element).
Phil_Britt
50%
50%
Phil_Britt,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/3/2014 | 6:50:27 PM
Re: More fun with numbers
Agreed, Mendyk. 

 

The price wars of the airline industry were unsustainable, but the airlines though that was the best way to lure customers. They had plenty of customers, but also plenty of red ink. Now the airlines are making a lot of money -- at the customers' expense and inconvenience.

Airlines, telecom carriers and other businesses can only go so far with price wars. And cheaper (price) service usually means cheaper (quality) service.
mendyk
50%
50%
mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/3/2014 | 7:23:50 PM
Re: More fun with numbers
We also should remember that Mr. Son lost a boatload of money in the first dot-com bubble. Fortunately for him, he had three boatloads, so no big worries. But his business decisions are not infallible.
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
More Blogs from Que Sera Sarah
The founder of the GIG and the first female salesperson at Sony shares her advice on carving your own path, being bold and creating a gender intelligent company.
Join us in Dallas as we discuss how to build a positive company culture at Light Reading's next Women in Comms breakfast on Sept. 16 ahead of NFV Everywhere.
As president of Partner Solutions for AT&T, McCorcle has helped transform how the organization works with enterprises, but also how it advocates for women in the industry.
Streaming video company says both new moms and dad can take unlimited parental leave, up to one year, without sacrificing pay.
T-Mobile was the big winner in the second quarter, as it surpassed Sprint in total subscribers, captured the postpaid phone growth and improved its financials.
From The Founder
Against the odds, Huawei is growing its telecoms networking equipment business in the US -- that should be ringing some alarm bells for domestic vendors.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
CLOUD / MANAGED SERVICES: Prepping Ethernet for the Cloud
Moderator: Ray LeMaistre Panelists: Jeremy Bye, Leonard Sheahan
Between the CEOs
CEO Chat With Jeff Miller, ActiveVideo

8|28|15   |   19:05   |   (0) comments


Jeff Miller, President and CEO of ActiveVideo, talks to Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the impact of virtualization on the TV and video distribution market.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Vodafone: Mobile Money Is About Customer Trust

8|27|15   |   06.36   |   (0) comments


Light Reading spoke with Vodafone's Ian Ravenscroft about the unique responsibilities and opportunities facing operators handling customers' financial transactions over the network.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Palo Alto Networks on Expanding in the Carrier/Service Provider Market

8|26|15   |   07:54   |   (0) comments


Alfred Lee from Palo Alto Networks tells Steve Saunders about their new chassis-based system, the PA-7080, and how it can benefit service providers compared to legacy firewalls.
LRTV Custom TV
Global Services Forum Preview

8|25|15   |   02:36   |   (0) comments


Light Reading's CEO and Founder Steve Saunders talks about Huawei's upcoming Global Services Forum with the help of Heavy Reading's Patrick Donegan and Teresa Mastrangelo.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Infoblox on DNS Threat Index

8|19|15   |   04:39   |   (0) comments


Dilip Pillaipakam from Infoblox talks to Steve Saunders about his company's core network services.
Between the CEOs
CEO Chat With Ihab Tarazi, Equinix

8|14|15   |   20:18   |   (1) comment


Equinix CTO Ihab Tarazi talks to Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the dramatic changes in the data center, cloud and interconnect markets and discusses the impact of SDN and NFV in the coming years.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
The Netformx Ecosystem

8|14|15   |   09:39   |   (1) comment


Ittai Bareket, CEO of Netformx, talks with Steve Saunders about the Netformx Ecosystem, which employs cutting-edge prescriptive analytics to help solution providers maximize profits.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Versa Networks on Leveraging VNFs

8|12|15   |   07:37   |   (0) comments


Kumar Mehta, founder and CEO of stealth mode startup Versa Networks, talks with Steve Saunders about how providers can best leverage virtualized network functions (VNFs).
LRTV Custom TV
Transforming the Network Through OPNFV

8|5|15   |   7:09   |   (0) comments


Sandra Rivera, VP Data Center Group; GM Network Platforms Group, Intel Corporation, on OPNFV Arno and how the industry is coming together to accelerate the deployment of NFV and transform the network.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei ONS Product Demo

8|3|15   |   6:01   |   (0) comments


Huawei shows at Open Networking Summit 2015 in Santa Clara how its SDN and NFV solutions embrace openness.
LRTV Custom TV
End-User or Enterprise Benefits to the New IP

7|30|15   |   04:27   |   (1) comment


Andrew Coward discusses what the New IP means to end users or enterprise customers. He explains compelling reasons, including how every customer can get their own network, from the transformation to the New IP.
LRTV Custom TV
Network Visibility & the New IP

7|30|15   |   02:23   |   (0) comments


Mukund Srigopal provides an explanation of what network visibility is and how it is essential as service providers transition to the New IP. In addition, the importance of the network packet broker is discussed.
Upcoming Live Events
September 16-17, 2015, The Westin Galleria Dallas, Dallas, TX
September 16, 2015, The Westin Galleria Dallas, Dallas, TX
September 16, 2015, The Westin Galleria Dallas, Dallas, TX
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
October 14-15, 2015, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, LA
November 5, 2015, Hilton Santa Clara, Santa Clara, CA
November 17, 2015, Santa Clara, California
December 1, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 2, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Cisco's cloud and virtualization portfolio can increase business agility and innovation by building a more flexible network architecture.
Hot Topics
T-Mobile CEO Plays Data Traffic Cop
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 8/31/2015
Verizon Hums a Driving Tune
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 8/26/2015
Sprint's Claure: '3 to 5 Years' to Turnaround
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 8/25/2015
CEO Chat With Bill Gates
Steve Saunders, CEO and founder, Light Reading, 8/31/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
September 22, 2015
Media Begins With “Me”
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
The scene: Last Saturday, lunchtime, the interior of a shi-shi-foo-foo eatery in Manhattan's SoHo district.
Jeff Miller, President and CEO of ActiveVideo, talks to Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the impact of virtualization on the TV and video distribution market.
Cats with Phones
Cats Are a Smartphone's Best Friend Click Here
Whoever said cats didn't live to please their humans?