T-Mobile USA is embarking on a new strategy to claw back market share from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, and today the carrier released some numbers that should help it set off on the right foot: 579,000 new customers, bringing its total to 34 million, according to preliminary Q1 results. Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile will start, finally, carrying the iPhone on April 12 as part of its “Un-carrier” campaign, which also includes a no-contract scheme and a new set of deals to help users buy their phones upfront.
Whether you think T-Mobile’s new plans are actually revolutionary or just marketing speak, the results today indicate that for now consumers are taking its early bait.
In addition to its overall gains, T-Mobile notes that it has narrowed — but has not reversed completely — the net losses in branded postpaid customers (the category that is most lucrative of all, since postpaid users tend to spend more than those using prepaid services): these were 199,000, down 61% from 515,000 losses a year ago. Meanwhile, T-Mobile continues to pick up more budget prepaid users: 202,000 more versus 166,000 a year ago, taking the total to 1.7 million over the past seven quarters, it says. Doing the math, that works out to a rather measly number: overall branded customer growth of just 3,000 customers, but still major reverse on its branded net loss a year ago, when 349,000 users decamped to other carriers.
T-Mobile has been a strong partner for those looking to create carrier businesses without owning networks — the so-called mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) approach — but this has for years proven to be a difficult game to play in terms of sustainable margins. Still the number of MVNO users on T-Mobile’s network continue to rise: they picked up 576,000 more, compared to 410,000 adds in the fourth quarter of 2012 in wholesale users, “primarily attributable to the continued focus on growing the MVNO customer base.”
“These results display positive momentum and the first positive branded growth in four years,” John Legere, president & CEO of T-Mobile USA, said in a statement. “We have made material progress in stabilizing our branded business in Q1, which provides a solid foundation to build on with the new Un-carrier customer offers we launched last week across America. I believe the best is yet to come!”
Still, there is a long road ahead for T-Mobile. That 34 million subscriber number, which includes a hefty measure of non-branded, MVNO users which make T-Mo less revenue, the is a very far cry from the subscriber numbers of market leaders like Verizon, which reported 98.2 million subscribers at the end of 2012 — most of them branded and postpaid.
T-Mobile’s best bet for more scale will be through acquisition and merger, and although its attempt to combine with AT&T was scotched, a more modest deal, with the smaller MetroPCS, is still on the cards — despite some persistent opposition.
No financials released today — these will be coming out on in T-Mobile’s full, final Q1 results on May 8, the company says. For now, here’s the breakdown of how those customer gains look across the board: