Verizon, T-Mobile Play Game Of One-Upsmanship

Just as Verizon got done touting its strong Q4 subscriber tally, T-Mobile started touting its own, even better, results a day later..

The number-three wireless operator said Wednesday it added 1.4 million postpaid customers in the fourth quarter, a Q4 record for the Bellevue, Wash.-based company. For the year, T-Mobile exceeded its guidance by adding 4.5 million postpaid additions.

Verizon, the much bigger carrier, added 650,000 postpaid customers in the fourth quarter, significantly more than the 355,600 analysts expected. That excited Wall Street enough that Verizon's stock bounced upward 2.7%, while rival AT&T’s fell.

“In a highly competitive wireless market, our connections growth and churn rates signal that customers are attracted to our network superiority and reliability, as well as our unique product offerings,” said Ronan Dunne, executive vice president and head of Verizon Wireless.



Verizon will report fuller numbers at the end of the month, but it has about 150 million subscribers, ahead of AT&T but not by much.

But T-Mobile, which calls itself the “un-carrier” and cultivates a kind of disruptive ‘tude, is a dogged competitor. It said that since 2013, when the un-carrier marketing began, it increased its subscriber base from 46 million to total 79.7 million customers as of the fourth quarter of 2018.

Sprint is a faraway fourth, with about 50 million, so at this point, even if the planned T-Mobile-Sprint merger takes place, the new company would still trail Verizon and AT&T.

All of them are jockeying for position in time for the real explosion of 5G marketing to consumers, which, despite recent sniping, won’t really begin until later this year  (or in T-Mobile’s case, by 2020) when their networks are more fully built and more smartphone brands will make it a competitive footrace.

Though each accuse the other of some marketing sleight of hand about what constitutes “real” 5G, Verizon and At&T already have nascent 5G operations. But T-Mobile is staking its future not only on its merger with Sprint but on at network that it claims will have better, wider coverage than its bigger competitors.

Earlier this week at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show,, T-Mobile, Intel and Erickson combined to generate a 5G T-Mobile signal it said was capable of covering 1,000 square miles from one tower. It also completed a 5G video call with three users on different spectrum bands, a demonstration of the multiband spectrum T-Mobile is staking much of its future on.

 “While the other guys focus on 5G millimeter wave on a handful of blocks in a handful of cities, we’re building 5G for everyone, everywhere,” said John Legere, T-Mobile CEO (pictured), in a press release that accompanied news of the successful test.  “And together with Sprint, we’ll add much-needed spectrum depth, creating a truly transformative 5G network.”

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