Q1 Scorecard: Wireless Operators Square Off on Data

LR Mobile compares U.S. wireless operators' results for Q1, in which ARPU growth superseded subscriber growth as a key metric

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

April 27, 2012

5 Min Read
Q1 Scorecard: Wireless Operators Square Off on Data

The first quarter for the U.S. Tier 1 wireless operators was defined by trying to pitch Long Term Evolution (LTE) smartphones in an iPhone-dominated world and eking out more revenue per subscriber in the face of slowing growth.

For the smaller players, the quarter was a struggle between thinking long-term on LTE and staying competitive in the interim.

In both cases, some were more successful than others.

With the exception of T-Mobile US Inc. , which reports with its parent company Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) on May 10, the major operators -- Verizon Wireless , AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) -- have reported their first-quarter numbers, as have smaller carriers Leap Wireless International Inc. (Nasdaq: LEAP) and MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS) and wholesaler Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR).

Here's how they stacked up on some key metrics from the quarter:

Table 1: Tier 1 Q1 Scorecard

Verizon Wireless

AT&T Wireless


Total Revenue

$15.4 billion

$16.1 billion

$8.73 billion

Net Income (Loss)

$3.9 billion

$3.6 billion

($863 million)

Total Subscribers

93 million

103.9 million

56 million

Subscriber Additions



1.1 million

Postpaid ARPU




Postpaid Churn




Table 2: Tier 2 Q1 Scorecard


Leap Wireless


Total Revenue

$1.3 billion

$825.6 million

$322.6 million

Net Income (Loss)

$21 million

($15.8 million)

($181.1 million)

Total Subscribers

9.5 million

6.19 million

11 million

Subscriber Additions








ARPU vs. subscribers
One of the most striking juxtapositions of the quarter is that for all the wireless operators, subscriber growth was stalling while average revenue per user (ARPU) driven by data was on the rise. Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. analyst Craig Moffett says it's an indication the wireless market is quickly reaching saturation.

"All is not well in Wireless Land," Moffett wrote in a research note. "Smartphone penetration, which has driven the industry's recent gains in ARPU growth, has passed 50 percent of post-paid subscribers in the U.S., suggesting that deceleration of incremental gains, for the industry at least, is a mathematical certainty."

To offset the decline, operators are working to increase the revenue they get from each subscriber they have. That's coming from new pricing plans, the move from unlimited data to tiers, higher upgrade fees and just plain ol' price increases to offset handset subsidies and stalling growth. (See Time for a 4G Price War Already?, MetroPCS Raises the Cost of Unlimited and Verizon Institutes $30 Upgrade Fee.)

Only Verizon and AT&T reported data ARPU, but both saw it rise -- Verizon by 16 percent over last year and AT&T by 15 percent. AT&T has moved 61 percent of its subscribers over to tiered plans as well.

LTE vs. the iPhone
As in quarters past, regardless of how hard LTE devices were marketed, the iPhone still dominated the scene at the big three. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint activated 4.3 million, 3.2 million and 1.5 million iPhones, respectively. That's down 43 percent for AT&T and 24 percent for Verizon from the previous quarter but still represented the majority of sales for both. (See Apple Earns $11.6B on Q2 iSales.)

Android 4G smartphones did grow in popularity during the quarter, however. Sprint didn't divulge its sales, but Verizon managed to sell 2.1 million LTE smartphones in the quarter. AT&T noted that it sold 5.5 million smartphones, and 30 percent of its customers were using 4G-capable devices, although that "4G" definition includes the high-speed packet access-plus (HSPA+) network.

For more on the first quarter

  • Clearwire Targets 31 Cities for LTE TDD

  • MetroPCS Sacrifices Profits for LTE

  • Cricket Leans on Its Competitors for LTE

  • Sprint CEO 'Doesn't Know' Timing of 4G iPhone

  • Sprint Losses Mount on 4G Upgrades & iPhones

  • AT&T: Customers 'Love Our 4G Network'

  • Data Drives AT&T's $3.6B Q1 Profit

  • Verizon to Roll Out Sharable Data Buckets

  • Verizon Earns $3.9B as Data Usage Jumps

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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