T-Mobile led in postpaid phone adds in Q4 as AT&T struggled: Wells Fargo

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T-Mobile reported last week that it signed 933,000 postpaid phone net additions during the last quarter of 2016 and saw a total of 1.2 million postpaid net adds during the period.

T-Mobile likely led all U.S. carriers in postpaid phone net adds during the fourth quarter, Wells Fargo Securities said this morning. And AT&T likely lost more than any other operator.

T-Mobile reported last week that it signed 933,000 postpaid phone net additions during the last quarter of 2016 and saw a total of 1.2 million postpaid net adds during the period, continuing the momentum it has gained over the last two years. The operator posted a churn of 1.28%, according to its preliminary report, and prepaid churn of 3.94%.

“T-Mobile has been strategically promotion in Q4, including a 'free' iPhone 7 offer with eligible trade-in and a discount to its T-Mobile One Plus plan,” Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche wrote in a research note to investors. “We expect migrations from prepaid to postpaid in the 150-200K range for Q4, slightly lower than the previous quarter. Our postpaid ARPU estimate is $48.27, up .5% year over year and .3% sequentially, which should see some slight accretion due to migrations to its T-Mobile One unlimited plan.”

Meanwhile, AT&T continued to shed customers during the quarter as it narrowed its focus on high-end users and launched its DirecTV Now offering, according to Wells Fargo. The nation’s second-largest carrier will post $14.8 billion in service revenue for the quarter, down .1 percent year over year and 1.1 percent sequentially, according to Wells Fargo’s estimate, due to “some pressure from migrations” to its equipment installment plans.

“We do believe (AT&T) felt some competitive pressure on lower-end postpaid customers, leading us to lower our postpaid net add estimate to 350K (from 500K prior) and postpaid phone net losses to -220K (from -50K) on January 3rd,” Fritzsche wrote. “We expect total wireless revenues of $18.8 billion (vs. Street estimates of $19 billion) and EBITDA margins (as a percent of total revenues) of 35.4%, up 150 basis points year-over-year as AT&T did not engage in significant wireless-specific promotions in Q4 similar to the other Big 4 carriers.”

Verizon also stepped up its promotional activity during the holidays, Wells Fargo observed, and likely saw 57,000 postpaid net phone additions during the quarter, which would beat Wall Street estimates of a loss of 100,000 subscribers. Service revenue will come in at $16.3 billion, Fritzsche predicted, down 4.9% year-over-year but better than the 5.2% slide the company posted in the third quarter.

Finally, Wells Fargo estimated Sprint would report 375,000 postpaid phone net additions during the quarter thanks in part to its promotional offer of five lines for $100 a month, which is slated to end this week. Sprint lost an estimated 250,000 prepaid net customers as it continued to struggle in that competitive segment, the firm predicted, but enjoyed a postpaid phone churn of 1.41% as its network performance continued to improve.

“We believe this churn reduction has been primarily due to Sprint’s network improvement as it densifies its network footprint to support 2.5 GHz spectrum,” Fritzsche wrote.