U.S. Cellular: We’ll gain more wireless customers in 2018

U.S. Cellular in its fourth quarter report said its network performance "remains strong despite increase in data usage." The operator's chart indicates each of its connections now consume an average of about 3.1 GB of data (presumably per month). (U.S. Cellular)

U.S. Cellular said it managed to acquire 18,000 net customer additions during the fourth quarter while lowering its churn rate. The company also said it was able to reduce expenses by some $100 million in 2017 and will continue to work to cut costs in 2018 and beyond.

"As we look to 2018, I am optimistic about our ability to increase revenues through a larger subscriber base and an expectation for a more rational competitive environment,” Kenneth Meyers, the regional operator’s CEO, said in a release. “We will continue to control costs across the organization, and remain disciplined in managing investments of capital for network capacity and quality and for digitization initiatives.”

In the fourth quarter, U.S. Cellular said it recorded postpaid handset gross additions up 2% “in spite of lower switching activity across the industry.” Specifically, the operator gained 133,000 gross handset additions during the period, up from the 116,000 gross handset additions it recorded in the same period a year ago.

Although U.S. Cellular notched a positive figure in its handset net customer additions for the quarter (a reversal from the 25,000 handset customers the operator lost in the year-ago period), U.S. Cellular said it lost 13,000 connected devices in the fourth quarter of 2017.

The operator’s handset churn clocked in at 1%, down from the 1.23% it reported in the fourth quarter of 2016.

In terms of its network, U.S. Cellular said its Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service is now up and running in Iowa, and the carrier plans to expand the service to additional markets this year. Interestingly, the operator said it continues to test 5G “to identify new opportunities,” and it said its LTE fixed wireless trial in Kansas and Nebraska were successful. The operator hinted it may well launch a 4G LTE fixed wireless commercial service sometime this year.

As for the operator’s capex, U.S. Cellular said its 2017 figure clocked in at $469 million, slightly below its guidance, and the operator said it expects to raise that figure in 2018 slightly to between $500 million and $550 million.

Overall, U.S. Cellular reported total operating revenues of around $1.029 billion in the quarter, up from the $1.006 billion it reported in the year-ago quarter. The operator’s net income attributable to shareholders clocked in at $4 million, a reversal of the operator’s $6 million loss in the same period one year ago.