T-Mobile US Reverses 4-Year Subscriber Slide


T-Mobile US ended the second quarter of 2013 with approximately 44 million customers, an increase of more than 10 million customers from the end of the first quarter of 2013, of which 1.1 million were net additions and 8.9 million were acquired customers from MetroPCS, who are included in branded prepaid customers.

Of those two sources of growth, it is the 1.1 million net additions that is key. In its first quarter of 2013, T-Mobile US had branded postpaid net losses of 199,000.

In its third quarter of 2012, T-Mobile US lost about 493,000 customers, while losing 515,000 in the fourth quarter of 2012.

So the big take away is that T-Mobile US has grown its key postpaid customer base, in a significant way, for the first time in more than four years.

Image via Shutterstock

Some might say T-Mobile US is making its turnaround faster than Sprint. Sprint added 12,000 customers to its network in the first quarter of 2013, compared with Verizon Wireless, which added 677,000 subscribers, and AT&T which added 296,000 subscribers.

Of course, Sprint also is shutting down the iDEN network supporting its Nextel customers, so some continuing drag was expected. But some would argue John Legere, T-Mobile US CEO, has been able to move much faster than Sprint.

Of the 1.1 million new T-Mobile US customers, fully 685,000 of them are the more profitable postpaid variety. AT&T, which is twice the size of T-Mobile, added only 550,000 postpaid customers during the second quarter.

Sprint actually lost one million postpaid customers during the second quarter.

What remains to be seen now is what a SoftBank-lead Sprint will attempt to do in the U.S. market. Perhaps the only question is what SoftBank might attempt, as the expectation is that it will be trying to disrupt the market.

One might argue that there are a couple of ways either Sprint or T-Mobile US might succeed. Ignoring for the moment an eventual merger of T-Mobile US and Sprint, either firm might recreate itself by becoming a substantial provider of prepaid service, in a market where prepaid becomes much more important.

That is something neither Sprint nor T-Mobile US probably would prefer, but would be one outcome of a successful disruption strategy.

The other, much harder outcome to achieve is a new market share position at the expense of the other providers of postpaid services. That would likely take the form of an assault, perhaps indirectly, on AT&T, which arguably is the more vulnerable of the two firms at the top of the market share rankings.

Both T-Mobile US and Sprint are stabilizing their businesses. That’s important, but only a precursor to what will follow: an attempt to change the structure of the U.S. mobile market.

Edited by Alisen Downey

Contributing Editor

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