Report: T-Mobile topples Verizon as the top-selling smartphone carrier in Q1

T-Mobile is the third-largest mobile network operator in the U.S., but it sold more smartphones than any other American carrier in the first quarter of 2016, according to Counterpoint Research.

"The growth of T-Mobile through its different 'Un-carrier' moves, the removal of subsidies and enticing subscribers with 'Simple Choice' & 'Jump' plans, has helped the operator to become the top smartphone sales channel in the USA," Counterpoint said in a press release. "T-Mobile, after surpassing AT&T last year to become the number two channel, and Sprint in 2014 for the number three channel, has now overtaken Verizon in Q1 2016 to become the leading buyer and seller of smartphones in (the) US market overall.

"The T-Mobile platform (including MetroPCS) captured 23 percent of the total smartphone shipments during the quarter followed by Verizon, AT&T and Sprint platforms."

T-Mobile edged out Verizon, which claimed 22.2 percent of U.S. smartphone sales in the first quarter, Counterpoint reported. AT&T sold 20.2 percent of smartphones during the quarter, and Sprint sold 16.7 percent of smartphones.

The news shouldn't be surprising to those who follow the wireless industry. T-Mobile added a total of 2.2 million customers during the first quarter, including nearly 900,000 branded postpaid phone net adds.

Carriers aside from the four major U.S. operators claimed 8.6 percent of new smartphone sales in the U.S. during the first quarter. Interestingly, the "open channel" -- phones that aren't tethered to any specific operator -- accounted for 9.4 percent of smartphone sales.

"In just eight quarters we have seen a dramatic turnaround as T-Mobile has shaken things up with its 'Un-carrier' strategy," Counterpoint wrote. "The U.S. market is undergoing dynamic shifts in how smartphones are being bought and sold as devices are increasingly being unbundled from call and data plans."

Counterpoint also reported the U.S. smartphone market shrank 4 percent "after a relatively stronger Q1 due to the strength of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus demand in the year ago quarter." The firm also noted extended smartphone upgrade cycles, echoing an industry-wide trend as operators move away from subsidized handsets and two-year contracts in favor of equipment installment plans and leased devices.

Counterpoint derives its findings from estimates based on smartphone vendors' results, vendor polling, supply chain checks and "secondary research."

"Carriers continued to push subscribers to non-subsidy plans as for the first time more than half of the combined subscriber base of the top four carriers are now on non-subsidized plans," said Jeff Fieldhack, research director at Counterpoint, in prepared remarks. "This is a significant shift from the subsidy-driven model just ten to twelve quarters ago. This has changed the basis of competition in US mobile landscape."

For more:
- see this Counterpoint press release

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