The number of people in the U.S. using wireless technology in 2019 surged to 52.7 million, a 23 percent year-over-year increase, according to a report from Fierce Wireless. This marked the largest percent jump in wireless penetration since the FCC began tracking wireless usage in 2012.
The only competitors able to stop T-Mobile and Verizon from growing are AT&T and Sprint, which lost more subscribers than they added. In contrast, T-Mobile’s 81 percent year-over-year growth compared to a 25 percent gain for Sprint.
With three of four wireless carriers losing customers, industry analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics said that customer losses are “inevitable” in the short term, but that “the big winners will be those carriers with the highest growth rates.”
AT&T fell behind its rivals in customer growth in the first quarter, leading to a loss of 111,000 net new mobile subscribers in the first quarter. By contrast, Sprint posted its ninth consecutive quarter of growth, and T-Mobile reported its first quarter of wireless growth since 2017. In addition, Sprint lost more wireless subscribers than it added in the fourth quarter.
Sprint and T-Mobile together added 2.3 million new mobile subscribers between them in the first quarter, making them the fastest growing wireless carriers by a wide margin. T-Mobile ranked first for wireless growth in the first quarter, but its 17.4 percent market share was less than the two other carriers.
T-Mobile grew its postpaid churn (amount of phone upgrades) to 0.92 percent, up from 0.83 percent in the first quarter of 2018, reaching another record low for the wireless provider. Its wireless service revenue grew 4.3 percent year-over-year, also a record low. In comparison, AT&T’s wireless service revenue decreased 2.2 percent year-over-year. Sprint also posted another quarter of year-over-year wireless service revenue growth, but it only beat out T-Mobile by 0.2 percent.
Following this customer growth, T-Mobile says it will reward T-Mobile and T-Mobile Simple Choice members with Free Music Streaming with T-Mobile and DirectTV Now service options. In other updates, the company says it will launch its new Music Unlimited program in June, which combines curated radio and unlimited music streaming. The company says it will continue to offer Cricket LTE data plans, and that it will close Binge On, its video streaming service for select customers.
AT&T doesn’t release subscriber numbers for each of its wireless operations, though the company said it added 79,000 net new wireless subscribers in the first quarter.
Despite AT&T’s losses of wireless subscribers, the company still reported 14.2 percent total U.S. wireless revenue growth and 5.7 percent year-over-year growth in total U.S. wireless service revenue in the first quarter. Furthermore, AT&T still managed to generate $39.3 billion in revenue, but it slightly edged out Verizon’s total of $39.2 billion in quarterly revenue. AT&T also beats out Verizon on net income.
AT&T’s service revenues fell a quarter-over-quarter basis. The company reported $2.4 billion in sales for the wireless segments, a slight year-over-year drop. But AT&T generated $21.6 billion in total revenues, up from $20.5 billion in the first quarter of 2018. While growth dropped nearly 1 percent, AT&T says those numbers aren’t consistent with its customer losses.
Sprint also announced its wireless service revenue rose 1.8 percent year-over-year, reaching $10.2 billion in the first quarter.
Total U.S. mobile service revenue grew 1.6 percent in the first quarter to $18.7 billion, exceeding Verizon’s $18.1 billion. However, Verizon continued to hold the largest mobile service subscriber base, with 104.7 million customers.