The first quarter of 2018 was a so-so one for US mobile operators. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint gained total customers last quarter. Verizon reported a rare decline in subscribers, and AT&T gains were from connected devices (IoT). All four carriers were profitable.
AT&T gained 49,000 postpaid, 241,000 prepaid and 2.728 million connected device customers but lost 388,000 reseller (MVNO) customers for a total gain of 2.63 million domestic subscribers vs gains of 2.76 million in Q4 2017 and 2.08 million a year ago in Q1 2017.
T-Mobile added 1.0 million postpaid, 199,000 prepaid customers, and 229,000 wholesale customers for a total gain of 1.43 million customers. That compares with gains of 1.85 million in Q4 2017 and 1.14 million in Q1 2017.
Sprint reported gaining 39,000 postpaid, 170,000 prepaid customers but losing 165,000 wholesale customers for a total gain of 44,000 customers vs gains of 385,000 in calendar Q4, 2017 and 368,000 million in calendar Q1, 2017.
Verizon added 260,000 postpaid connections and lost 335,000 prepaid customers for a loss of 75,000 connections vs gains of 990,000 in Q4 2017 and a loss of 324,000 in Q1 2017.
Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint were all profitable last quarter. In Q4, 2017 the carriers all experienced windfall profits due to tax cuts. This quarter, profits returned to normal levels.
Verizon made a profit of $4.67 billion last quarter compared with $18.78 billion in Q4 2017 and $3.55 billion a year ago in Q1 2017.
AT&T made $4.66 billion last quarter compared with $19.04 billion in Q4 2018 and $3.47 billion in Q1 2017.
T-Mobile made $671 million last quarter compared with $2.7 billion in Q4 2017 and $698 million in Q1 2017.
Sprint made $69 million compared with $7.16 billion in Q4 2017 and a loss of $283 million in Q1 2017.
Here's how the operators ranked by total subscribers at the end of the quarter:
Verizon 150.2 million*
AT&T 143.8 million
T-Mobile 74.0 million
Sprint 54.6 million
*Estimated. Verizon doesn't report wholesale or connected device customer numbers. Verizon claimed 116.2 million retail connections at the end of Q1, 2018. I estimate that Verizon has approximately 14 million wholesale (MVNO) and 20 million connected device (cars and IoT) customers for a total of 150.2 million total subscribers.
Postpaid phone customers are generally much more profitable than tablet, connected device, prepaid and wholesale customers. Industry watchers put a lot of emphasis on postpaid phone customer gains and loses. For the 15th consecutive quarter, T-Mobile lead the pack with the most postpaid phone additions.
Prepaid and MVNO subscribers:
América Móvil's Tracfone lost 522,000 subscribers from its Safelink Lifeline service last quarter. Tracfone's other brands gained a combined total 151 thousand customers for an aggregate loss of 371,000 lines of service in Q1. That compares with losses of 611,000 in Q4, 2017 and 1.3 million in Q1, 2017.
América Móvil does not break out profit or loss by country, but its Q1, 2018 US EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) were $152 million, compared with $145 million in Q4, 2017 and $211 million in Q1, 2017. Revenue was up and churn was down both quarter over quarter and year over year so TracFone seems to be doing OK overall in spite of the Lifeline losses.
TracFone operates the Straight Talk, NET10, Tracfone, Simple Mobile, Page Plus, Total Wireless, Telcel America, Walmart Family Mobile, GoSmart and SafeLink Wireless MVNO brands in the US. TracFone reported that as of Q1, 2018, its Straight Talk brand had ad 9 million customers, SafeLink 3.7 million and the other eight TracFone brands combined had 10 million.
The number of branded prepaid customers fell by 96 thousand last quarter as a result of prepaid losses at Verizon and Tracfone.
Total branded prepaid customers at the end of last quarter were 73.34 broken down as follows:
Wholesale (MVNO) customers reported by mobile operators decreased by 324,000 last quarter:
Wholesale customers are mainly prepaid MVNO customers. Last quarter:
Total Wholesale (MVNO) customers as of 12/31/17 are about 50.5 million, distributed as follows:
T-Mobile 14.01 million
Verizon 14 million est.
Sprint 13.52 million
AT&T 9 million
Nearly half of those 50.5 million wholesale customers are with Tracfone, the other half are spread around 100 or so independent MVNOs.
There are approximately 101.1 million total prepaid (branded and MVNO) subscribers in the US as of 3/31/2018. That means prepaid customers account for 23.9% of the 422.6 million current big four mobile network lines of service.
In summary, All the national carriers except Verizon gained customers last quarter and all were profitable. Once again the bulk of AT&T's growth was in low revenue connected devices. TracFone lost customers again but revenue was up. Total MVNO subscribers declined, as Sprint and AT&T reported wholesale (MVNO) subscriber loses.