T-Mobile pushes hard for prepaid subscribers amid uncertainty

T-Mobile USA is pushing hard to attract prepaid subscribers and is incentivizing its dealers to promote its "Monthly 4G" plans as a key part of its strategy while uncertainty over the fate of AT&T's (NYSE:T) proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile lingers.

T-Mobile recently introduced new pay-by-the day plans as well as a new monthly plan, all on the heels of a deal with Walmart to offer a prepaid plan. Sold exclusively through Walmart and online, the $30 no-contract plan offers up to 5 GB of data on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, unlimited texting and 100 voice minutes with a charge of 10 cents per minute beyond that.

In addition to the new plans, according to the Wall Street Journal, T-Mobile has introduced a tiered compensation system for dealers to give them higher up-front payments to promote its $50-$70 unlimited prepaid plans, which T-Mobile started offering this year. "In the past, we've not been very attentive to prepaid customers," Todd Heiner--whose Salt Lake City company, Express Locations LLC, runs more than 80 T-Mobile stores in 10 states--told the Journal. He said the new incentives are "really encouraging everyone to not let [a customer] walk out of a store before we've talked about Monthly 4G."

T-Mobile confirmed that it had launched a new compensation structure for its dealers along with the new monthly prepaid plans. Through the first two quarters of the year the carrier has added a net of 514,000 prepaid and MVNO customers and lost a net of 472,000 postpaid customers. Since June 2010 T-Mobile has added a net of 933,000 prepaid customers and lost 1 million postpaid subscribers. But uncertainty hangs over T-Mobile; AT&T has said it will seek a settlement with the Department of Justice, which has sued to block AT&T's plans to acquire T-Mobile on antitrust grounds. AT&T is also preparing for a Feb. 13 trial.

While prepaid growth has been strong, T-Mobile is still pushing hard for postpaid additions, using its HSPA+ 42 network as a key differentiator in the market. Still, T-Mobile has been using the network as a way to lure customers who might want more data access than voice minutes, as evidenced by the Walmart plan. "They are in the relatively fortunate position of having a high-quality data network that is relatively vacant," Sanford C. Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett told the Journal. "That gives them a lot of strategic maneuverability."

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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