The big three U.S. mobile operators collectively added nearly 1.5 million postpaid phone subscribers in Q2 2021. But cable MVNOs continued to nip at their heels, growing wireless subscribers and revenue at a healthy clip.
Comcast, Charter Communications and Altice USA collectively added 550,000 mobile subscribers in the period. This figure marked a 13.4% increase from the 485,000 wireless customers the cable companies added in Q2 2020. All told, cable players ended the quarter with 6.5 million mobile subscribers.
So, who put in the best performance? Let’s take a look.
Comcast led the pack across the board, posting the highest customer additions, total customer count and revenue from its Xfinity Mobile MVNO business.
The operator pulled in 280,000 mobile net additions in Q2, up from 126,000 in the same period of 2020, marking its best quarterly result on record. It ended the quarter with 3.383 million mobile customers compared to 2.393 million in Q2 2020.
Wireless revenue of jumped 70.4% year-on-year to $556 million, up from $326 million.
Analysts at MoffettNathanson noted Comcast’s wireless profitability improved rather than declined despite its introduction of a multi-line discount for wireless subscribers in the quarter, which they called “a surprise.”
“The fact that the wireless business generated meaningfully positive EBITDA for the first time is an important milestone,” they wrote. “With a path to profitability even without significant traffic offload, there is an increasingly strong case to be made that wireless really can become a meaningful value driver” for the operator.
Charter Communications also posted strong subscriber gains and revenue growth in its Spectrum Mobile business.
The operator added 265,000 mobile lines in quarter, including 250,000 consumer and 15,000 business lines. The net add figure compared to 325,000 in Q2 2020 and 208,000 in Q2 2019. It closed the quarter with 2.94 million wireless lines, up from 1.69 million in the year-ago period.
Mobile revenue leapt 67.5% year-on-year to $519 million, up from $310 million.
Analysts at New Street Research stated they expect Charter to follow Comcast in introducing new service pricing “and when they do, we would expect net adds to accelerate materially.” Though Charter executives stayed mum on when they might make a move, New Street tipped the change to “be in place for the 4Q21 selling season.” “We now think wireless adds for 2022 could be 1.4MM,” they concluded.
Altice USA brought up the rear, adding 5,000 mobile lines in the quarter. That figure was down substantially from 34,000 net additions in Q2 2020. It ended the quarter with 180,000 mobile lines, up from 144,000 in the year-ago period.
Mobile revenue of $20.7 million was up 4% year-on-year from $19.9 million.
Analysts at Raymond James stated they had lowered their net add estimate ahead of earnings due to concerns about Altice’s ability to take share from competitors with more aggressive pricing. But they noted the operator “expressed a willingness on its 2Q call to be more aggressive with its mobility offering going forward, which would yield more positive results, in our view.”
On the operator’s earnings call, CEO Dexter Goei said it was aiming to ramp its marketing efforts in the back half of 2021. “So probably more around the back-to-school type of event as a lot of promotions and marketing activity happens through to the end of the year, we'll be looking at being more aggressive on the mobile side,” he stated.
Earlier this month, Altice rebranded its MVNO service from Altice Mobile to Optimum Mobile. Goei said the move was “the first step in our plan to align all of our connectivity brands, including Suddenlink, eventually under one national Optimum brand.”