Still defying anyone who dares to suggest its rate of customer growth will eventually slow, T-Mobile US has reported another record-beating quarter of subscriber additions, picking up another 2.4 million customers between October and December last year.
That is more than T-Mobile US Inc. has ever previously managed in a single quarter and leaves the US operator with nearly 79.7 million connections in total.
While that figure includes wholesale business, T-Mobile's retail arm continues to power ahead, adding nearly 1.5 million connections in the final quarter to finish 2018 with about 63.7 million overall. Around 1.4 million of those additions were for its more lucrative post-paid services -- its best ever fourth quarter for contract user gains -- and the operator now boasts roughly 42.5 million post-paid subscribers.
Table 1: Retail Subscriptions ('000)
|Q1 2017||Q2 2017||Q3 2017||Q4 2017||Q1 2018||Q2 2018||Q3 2018||Q4 2018|
The update comes a day after Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) claimed to have signed up another 1.2 million post-paid subscribers in the final quarter of 2018, giving it 113.3 million altogether.
Although Verizon's post-paid business dwarfs T-Mobile's, the smaller operator is growing its phone business more quickly: About 1 million of T-Mobile's new post-paid connections were phone users (rather than those using tablets or other devices), while Verizon managed only 650,000 phone additions. It has yet to provide details of prepaid or wholesale growth.
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) have yet to publish any customer numbers for the last three months of 2018. AT&T's mobile business had 93.9 million connections at the end of September, while Sprint had 41.3 million.
"The T-Mobile team delivered our best customer results ever in Q4 2018 and we did it in a competitive climate while working hard to complete our merger with Sprint," said CEO John Legere in a company statement. "That's 23 quarters in a row where more than 1 million customers have chosen T-Mobile."
The potential merger with Sprint and this year's rollout of 5G represent the biggest uncertainties for T-Mobile this year as it looks to maintain growth. (See Verizon, AT&T Spar Over 5G Service Names, Marketing.)
Yet to secure the full approval of US regulatory authorities, the Sprint deal will hitch T-Mobile to a network operator that has barely grown in recent quarters, compared with its bigger rivals. Merging two very different businesses could turn out to be a huge distraction from the usual sales and marketing activities for T-Mobile.
The introduction of 5G technology could also change the market dynamics. AT&T and Verizon are relying on high spectrum bands to support new 5G services, while T-Mobile plans to make use of lower frequencies.
Higher frequencies usually promise faster connections but tend to offer relatively poor coverage in comparison with low spectrum bands. Legere has already suggested that Verizon will struggle to blanket parts of the US with its 5G service. The question is whether his own company's 5G network can match AT&T and Verizon on connection speeds. (See T-Mobile US Lags Rivals in 5G, Finds T-Mobile Survey.)
— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading