Verizon's Stratton: We'll add phone customers in Q4

John Stratton, Verizon's executive vice president and president of operations

Verizon will add phone subscribers this quarter after losing 36,000 postpaid phone customers in the third quarter, Executive Vice President John Stratton predicted this morning.

“My expectation is that as you typically see seasonal increases from Q3 to Q4, I think we’ll see the same here,” Stratton told attendees at an investor conference. “I do expect positive phone net adds and continued strength of our overall performance.”

The nation’s largest wireless carrier posted its first-ever loss in postpaid phone customers last quarter as competition in the U.S. market quietly ratcheted up. T-Mobile and Sprint turned up the heat on their bigger rivals by launching unlimited data plans, and operators launched “unprecedented” promotions to leverage the release of Apple’s iPhone 7.

But an older iPhone also played an important role in the market during the third quarter, Stratton said.

“The launch of the iPhone 7 is very noteworthy – it’s a great device and on its own merits that’s a very meaningful launch to the market,” Stratton observed. “But what’s also important to remember is the second anniversary of the launch of the original iPhone 6, which was such a big hit for Apple that cyclically you have many tens of millions of customers who were essentially up for renewal. So it got pretty intense there. In the month of September, the combination of unlimited and free iPhone (promotions) and the like kind of stimulated some activity.”

Verizon is betting it will continue to attract users to the price plans it introduced in July that hiked prices but also increased customers’ monthly data allotments. Those plans, which enable users to roll over unused data for one month and to avoid data overage charges by having download speeds throttled to 128 Kbps, proved compelling out of the gate, Stratton said.

“It was by far -- from an existing customer migration and adoption (standpoint) – by orders of magnitude, the fastest migration we’ve seen to new plans,” he said. “We had literally tens of millions of subscriber lines shift onto these plans in just the first couple of months.”

Of course, whether Verizon can continue that momentum in an increasingly competitive fourth quarter has yet to be determined.