This story has been updated with clarification about Leap's net subscriber additions.
Prepaid providers MetroPCS Communications and Leap Wireless International both have posted year-over-year decreases in the number of new customers signing up for service during the fourth-quarter's crucial holiday sales season.
Although both companies' preliminary customer numbers marked an improvement over the third quarter – expected because of the usual seasonal increase in December sales – they added fewer net new subscribers than they did during the same period the previous year.
MetroPCS added 197,000 net new customers during the fourth quarter of 2011, down from the 298,000 net adds it posted during the fourth quarter of 2010. Churn rose to 3.7 percent from 3.5 percent in 2010.
Leap, the parent company of Cricket Communications, also saw a slump in new customers during the last three months of 2011.
Leap added about 175,000 customers during the fourth quarter and expects churn to come in between 3.7 percent and 3.9 percent. During the same period in 2010, its net adds rose to 430,000 customers after it got a boost from its acquisition of Pocket Communications. Excluding the Pocket Communications customers, Leap’s fourth quarter net additions in 2011 were slightly higher than the previous year.
However, Leap's fourth-quarter results were far better than its third-quarter numbers, when it added a meager 10,000 net new customers.
Leap CEO Doug Hutcheson said the company's Muve Music service helped buoy sales.
"Uptake of our smartphones and Muve Music devices as a percent of total sales was approximately 60 percent in December," Hutcheson said in a statement. "We believe that the continued momentum in our voice services positions the company for further improvements in operational and financial performance as we head into the new year."
MetroPCS ended the year with 9.3 million customers; Leap came in with a year-end subscriber base of 5.9 million.
Neither company has announced when they will release their full results for the fourth quarter.