Competition between wireless carriers reaches a lull: analyst

The major U.S. wireless carriers have not yet responded to Comcast's Xfinity Mobile wireless service. (Comcast)

Competition among wireless providers is cooling down, despite recent merger talks, a raft of back-and-forth offerings from the major wireless carriers and even Comcast’s entry into the wireless market with Xfinity Mobile, according to BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk.

Wireless carriers seem unconcerned by Comcast, which is currently offering a $250 prepaid card for new customers who buy a Samsung phone. Comcast is also offering new customers a guaranteed trade-in value of at least $200 for other phones.

“Comcast does not appear to be shying away from burning cash in order to enter the wireless business, yet their actions have still not evoked a response from the wireless industry,” Piecyk wrote in an analyst note.

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Piecyk identified a few moves made by the major wireless carriers that show competition is moderating. T-Mobile hasn’t launched a new uncarrier offering yet in 2018, and Sprint’s most recent Samsung Galaxy S9 promotion is “surprisingly tame.” Even Comcast isn’t too concerned with an aggressive wireless strategy, Piecyk said, arguing that its interest in Sky “reflects a lack of focus on wireless.”

AT&T’s most recent rate plan reconfiguration, which saw the price of its unlimited data plan drop $10 to $80 for a single line, will impact only a small portion of its customers. Piecyk estimates single-line customers represent less than 10% of AT&T’s postpaid subscriber base.

“The more notable change by AT&T was a reduction in the number of metered data share plans they offer and a price increase for two lines and above,” Piecyk said, adding that multiple-line plans are its most popular. AT&T’s most competitive offerings are its hyperlocal promotions in markets, which Piecyk thinks will be hard for competitors to respond to.

Verizon is also exploring hyperlocal competitive offerings. In Florida, Verizon is now offering customers aged 55 and over a single line of unlimited service for $60 per month. But Piecyk dubbed the plan, which is a response to a similar national offer from T-Mobile, to be a weaker offering.

“We believe the positive impact of offering unlimited rate plans is beginning to wane at Verizon, but it still is looking to protect ARPU as it plots its path back to wireless service revenue growth,” Piecyk said, adding that Verizon’s network differentiation “continues to dissipate.”

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On the 5G front, Piecyk noted that Verizon executives have spent more time talking about the company’s fixed wireless plans than its mobile plans, indicating that the company is eager to take residential broadband market share away from cable broadband providers.

“The risk of calling fixed wireless ‘5G,’ a service that has been offered in various forms for 20 years, will be to cool the market on the current 5G hype cycle,” he said.