Big carriers get bigger in slow economy

An economic slowdown is actually helping AT&T and Verizon Wireless suck all the air--and customers--out of the wireless market, a Wall Street analyst says. Craig Moffett, of Bernstein Research, says the mobile market is becoming a "zero-sum" game where the most successful companies grow by feasting on their rivals.

The weak economy and aggressive competition make it tough for Sprint Nextel, which continues to lose millions of customers to the two big players. "The challenge of turning around Sprint would be difficult enough in a high-growth environment, but in a slow-growth market, we think the odds are stacked against them," he said.

Even when it comes down to just two, Moffett gives the edge to AT&T because of its iPhone distribution rights and improved customer service. Verizon Wireless, he said, is hampered by a wireline business that is weaker than AT&T's.

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