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Verizon's Q3 shows 'phenomenal job with a difficult hand'

While Verizon Wednesday reported quarterly financial results roughly in line with expectations and the company's stock sagged slightly in response, financial analysts generally cheered the company's positioning and its overall future in the wireless industry.

Indeed, the financial analysts at MoffettNathanson argued that Verizon stands just behind T-Mobile in terms of its ability to cash in on a 5G future. The analysts argued that AT&T, hobbled with a messy streaming video business and crushing debt, likely won't be able to compete in the wireless industry against Verizon and T-Mobile over the long term.

"Being second in a two-horse race might be better than being first in a race of three or four," the MoffettNathanson analysts wrote in a note to investors.

"We have been cautious on Verizon because we expect the wireless landscape to become more competitive," wrote the financial analysts with New Street Research in a note to investors, pointing to T-Mobile's improving 5G network and the threats from cable operators and Dish Network. "That said, our view was impacted by their [Verizon's] partnership with Apple for the launch of the iPhone 12, the latest in a string of high profile partnerships Verizon has secured over the last two years that elevate the brand and will make it incrementally more challenging for the challengers to take share. Verizon's management team has so far done a phenomenal job with a difficult hand."

As the financial analysts with Evercore noted, Verizon's third quarter results were "good and broadly in line with our forecasts," a fact that Verizon executives made sure to tout in the shadow of a pandemic. Further, the company raised its 2020 guidance for its earnings per share from a range of -2% to 2% to a range of 0% to 2%. And Verizon now expects its fourth quarter wireless service revenue to be up around 2% year over year, above analysts' expectations.

"AT&T appears to be in genuine distress," summarized the MoffettNathanson analysts. "We would argue that T-Mobile is clearly the best positioned to benefit. But, if AT&T's weak balance sheet really does lead them to fall meaningfully behind, Verizon would obviously benefit as well."

Verizon executives, for their part, said the company's focus on 5G remains largely intact. "I think we're in a very strong position," CEO Hans Vestberg said during the company's quarterly conference call, pointing to Verizon's continuing 5G mobility, fiber and fixed wireless buildouts. "We are really in execution mode right now."

Vestberg declined to provide any further details on the operator's 5G buildout beyond what company officials have said previously.

However, both the New Street and MoffettNathanson analysts worried that Verizon will need additional spectrum for 5G to remain competitive. The company is widely expected to dominate the upcoming C-band auction for midband spectrum.

Importantly, Vestberg also reiterated Verizon's goals to begin generating revenues from 5G mobile and fixed services starting in 2021, and from its mobile edge computing service – which now leverages partnerships with both Amazon and Microsoft – in 2022.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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