The average wireless customer has so far connected roughly three different devices to each account, according to a survey by Wall Street research firm Cowen and Company. That figure, the firm noted, will become increasingly important as wireless operators look to gain revenues from connections to devices beyond phones such as watches, tablets and other electronic goodies.
“Devices per account growth at survey record highs,” the Cowen analysts wrote in a recent report detailing the findings of their latest quarterly survey, which tallied responses from about 1,000 mobile customers. “Devices per account is a key driver for ARPA growth as we consider carrier service revenue growth opportunities in a maturing, competitive, and Unlimited data marketplace. Our survey suggests devices per account increased to 2.94 vs. 2.70 in our prior survey and a record high since we began asking to all plan subscribers in 1Q16.”
As the analysts noted, attaching more devices per customer account is a critical part of operators’ strategies in an unlimited data world. After all, unlimited data plans essentially prevent operators from charging more to customers who use more data.
“In the age of Unlimited, device growth is a key driver of service revenue growth across the industry as T-Mobile and Verizon have specifically called out solid wearables (i.e. iWatch net adds) in recent earnings results and offsets continued attrition of tablet adds which were driving solid growth as recently as 2016,” the analysts wrote.
Indeed, Apple’s new cellular-capable Watch device has helped operators boost their quarterly net customer addition numbers. “Overall, we gained 260,000 post-paid net ads, consisting of phone losses of 24,000 and tablet losses of 75,000, offset by 359,000 other connected devices primarily wearables,” Verizon Chief Financial Officer Matt Ellis said in April, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of Verizon’s quarterly earnings call.
“We also had strong branded postpaid net additions of 1 million, due in part to the particular success of the Apple Watch and other wearables,” added T-Mobile’s John Legere during his company’s quarterly conference call, according to Seeking Alpha.
Verizon, T-Mobile and the rest of the nation’s wireless network operators are scheduled to report their third-quarter financial results starting later this month, and all eyes will be on commentary from the launch of Apple’s latest gadgets, including the company’s newest Watch.
The growth of the smartwatch opportunity is key for the nation’s wireless carriers, considering they generally charge an extra $10 a month for Apple Watch cellular service. And though many carriers are offering a free month or three of service for the gadgets, BayStreet Research found earlier this year that, at least so far, most Apple Watch customers are electing to pay the $10 per month to keep their watch activated.
To be clear, though, the smartwatch opportunity is just the latest in a series of gadgets on which operators have pinned growth hopes. Previously, operators expected massive numbers of customers would purchase cellular-capable tablets, and before that operators hoped for massive sales of 3G-connected netbooks. Neither of those categories resulted in a major opportunity.
But operators appear undaunted. For example, last month Samsung’s SmartThings business announced a new LTE M tracking product the company said would allow consumers to keep tabs on everything from pets to backpacks. Importantly, the device will sell for $99, and that price includes a year of AT&T LTE M service. After that year, services on the device will cost $5 per month.