Advertisement

Verizon wasn’t alone in feeling the heat early this year. Rival AT&T on Tuesday posted postpaid phone net losses of 348,000 under pressure in a competitive first quarter.

The carrier’s total wireless revenues across its Consumer Mobility and Business Solutions segments came in at $17.2 billion, down 4.4 percent year over year thanks to “decreases in service and equipment revenues.” The former – wireless service revenues – dipped 1.8 percent year over year to $14.5 billion, while equipment revenues tumbled 16.7 percent to $2.6 billion. That last bit can be tied to AT&T’s record-low postpaid upgrade rate of 3.9 percent, which was down from 5 percent last year. The carrier’s smartphone sales figures were down a total of 11 percent in the first quarter.

Technology Business Research Telecom Analyst Steve Vachon indicated those equipment figures aren’t likely to get much better anytime soon.

“Equipment revenue growth will remain an issue for the carrier as BYOD customers account for a higher portion of gross additions, consumers hold onto their smartphones for a longer duration to avoid paying unsubsidized prices, and new device models become less appealing as technology matures,” he said. “However, these trends are benefiting AT&T’s cost structure as lower equipment costs contributed to Mobility EBITDA margins increasing 100 basis points to 41.8 percent in 1Q17.”

AT&T also racked up a number of subscriber losses, including a net loss of 191,000 postpaid subscribers, 582,000 reseller subscribers, and 348,000 postpaid phone subs. The latter figure topped even heavy losses from rival Verizon, which recorded postpaid phone losses of 289,000.

The bright spots in the report were prepaid phone gains of 282,000 and postpaid phone churn, which came in at a record first quarter low of .90 percent. EBITDA and operating margins weren’t bad either, coming in at a best-ever 41.8 percent and a strong 30.1 percent, respectively. The EBITDA wireless service margin was 49.3 percent.

Like Verizon, the carrier noted its feet were to the fire in the first quarter, especially prior to the introduction of its new unlimited plan. CEO Randall Stephenson acknowledged AT&T’s move on unlimited was “probably a little slow” and noted the carrier “lost some share” during the quarter as a result. But Stephenson said AT&T wanted to make sure it got it right with its unlimited offer.

“It was really important that our unlimited offers be unique and play to our strengths,” Stephenson commented. “We're combining our unlimited with some significant discounts on TV and free HBO, and as these offers are now in the market our subscriber metrics have returned to kind of the same levels they were before all these unlimited offers began.”

However, Vachon said AT&T’s bundling strategy at a higher price point will see it continue to lose customers to cost competitive carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint.

“AT&T isn’t attempting to undercut competitors on price. Rather, AT&T seeks to pull consumers into its broader ecosystem by offering subscribers significantly discounted DirecTV services and free access to HBO, which will likely soon become an AT&T-owned asset. Though this strategy will help retain premium customers and spur DirecTV Now adoption, TBR expects AT&T will continue to lose postpaid phone customers throughout 2017 due to pricing pressures from T-Mobile and Sprint,” Vachon commented.

But AT&T is expected to stick to its video tilt. Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche said though AT&T may ramp up its wireless efforts, the carrier will likely continue “differentiating its offering around a bundled video approach.”

Advertisement
Advertisement