Sprint matches Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile in Q4 postpaid customer gains

Sprint reported lower postpaid phone customer additions than in prior quarters. (Sprint)

Sprint reported postpaid phone customer additions of 184,000 in its most recent quarter—almost exactly the same number that Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile MVNO reported for the same period. Those figures are noteworthy considering Sprint has offered nationwide service for decades while Xfinity Mobile launched less than a year ago and is only available in Comcast’s cable services footprint.

Moreover, Sprint’s quarter was aided by the company’s continued offer of a free year of unlimited wireless service to any customer who brings an existing phone to the carrier and activates service.

Nonetheless, Wall Street analysts largely offered a positive reaction to Sprint’s quarterly figuers:

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“While we understand the weaker phone additions, we do not believe it is overly surprising given the competitiveness the last three weeks of December,” wrote Jennifer M. Fritzsche of Wells Fargo in a note to investors this morning.

Others agreed. “With national peers all having reported better postpaid phone net adds (and lower churn), we believe expectations had been meaningfully lowered heading into today's print (Sprint -13% YTD, vs. peers flat to +3%),” wrote the analysts at Deutsche Bank Markets Research in a note to investors this morning. “To be clear, some results are below expectations (and trending in the wrong direction) across key metrics like postpaid phone churn (+14bp yoy) and gross adds (-2% yoy, the first decline in recent history), as well as postpaid phone ARPU (-2% qoq, -10% yoy). That said, we think recent weakness in shares is reflective of lowered investor expectations, while in-line to slightly better financial results could provide some near-term relief.”

The analysts at New Street Research offered a similar assessment. “Following strong beats on postpaid phone net adds from TMUS (+81k ahead), VZ (+125K), and T (+359k), investors had had come to suspect that Sprint lost subs this quarter,” the analysts wrote in a note to investors this morning. “We think today’s positive net add result is better than worst fears (or hopes), even if it didn’t quite meet expectations from a couple of weeks ago. These results suggest that the Company’s slow and difficult recovery is still progressing. Churn is still way too high, and it is headed in the wrong direction, but we are starting to see evidence of the network investment that could ultimately lead to a better product.”

For its part, Comcast disclosed that the company’s Xfinity Mobile wireless service, an MVNO powered by Verizon’s network, counted 380,000 customer lines at the end of 2017—a figure that implies roughly 180,000 net customer additions during the quarter.

Here are some of the details of Sprint’s quarterly report:

Subscribers:

Sprint reported 385,000 total net customer additions in its quarter, down from the 564,000 it reported in the year-ago quarter but up from the 378,000 net additions it reported in the prior quarter. Sprint ended the quarter with nearly 54.6 million connections, including 31.9 million postpaid, 9 million prepaid and nearly 13.7 million wholesale and affiliate connections.

For postpaid phone net additions specifically, Sprint reported 184,000, down from 368,000 in the year-ago period and the 279,000 it notched in the prior quarter. “Both the year-over-year and sequential decreases were primarily driven by higher churn,” Sprint said.

Wells Fargo noted the carrier’s postpaid phone figure was below its prediction of 200,000 and average Wall Street analyst expectations of 247,000.

Sprint said it reported prepaid net customer additions of 63,000 during the quarter, up from the 460,000 it lost in the year-ago period. “The year-over-year improvement was mostly driven by lower churn and higher gross additions in the Boost brand,” the company said.

Churn:

Sprint’s postpaid phone churn clocked in at 1.71%, up from 1.57% in the year-ago period and 1.59% in the prior quarter.

“We recognize that our churn is higher than our peers,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said this morning on the carrier’s quarterly earnings call with investors. He said the company has recently deployed a new “quality of experience” measurement tool that shows that churn rates drop in areas where Sprint deploys 2.5 GHz spectrum, which he said would allow the company to continue to improve its churn figures in specific geographic areas. “We’re comfortable with this strategy,” he said.

Financials:

Sprint’s net operating revenue came in at $8.2 billion for the quarter, a slight decline from the year-ago quarter and the prior quarter. The company’s wireless service revenue was $5.6 billion, also lower than prior periods.

Capex:

Sprint said it expects its capital expenditures to hit the low end of its prior expectation of $3.5 billion to $4 billion.