Wireline's Accelerating Demise
What's interesting about these performances is that both were driven essentially by the same engine: Cingular Wireless. The No. 1 mobile operator in the United States is jointly owned by BellSouth (40 percent) and AT&T (the remaining 60 percent), and consolidating ownership of it was a major driving factor in AT&T's bid to obtain BellSouth.
Cingular Wireless said last week its net income tripled to $847 million as it added 1.4 million new customers.
Plain old telephone service, meanwhile, continues to decline at both AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS). Revenues from conventional wireline services fell 4.9 percent at AT&T compared to the same period one year ago, while BellSouth said the number of its wireline customers fell 6.9 percent, to 19 million.
Most tellingly, even the high-speed Internet offerings from the two phone companies are lagging: BellSouth added only 176,000 new broadband customers in the quarter; AT&T said its DSL business is not growing as rapidly as expected.
The companies blamed several factors for these disappointments, including customer churn from temporary promotional offers and a concentration on higher revenue services. Isn't it likely that many customers are finding cheaper and more attractive high-speed wireless alternatives as well?
In fast-growing markets like China, of course, this transition is moving even faster, as customers who have no prospect of getting a conventional phone line go straight to cellular service and to various forms of wireless Internet access, including 3G. (See 3G Nears Reality in China .)
What will the world look like when there are no more phone lines? That's a question that many telecom strategists have been pondering for a while now. It appears they'd better speed up their prognostications.
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung