Editor’s Note: The companies listed below represent the four first-tier wireless operators that control enough spectrum for a nationwide footprint. They are ranked by their number of subscribers at the end of 2005. Subscriber additions and financial results are from company records and are for the full-year 2005, unless otherwise noted.
Cingular Wireless L.L.C retained its position at the top of the list with 54.1 million subscribers. However, Verizon Wireless, in the second slot, is rapidly closing the gap in customer numbers. Verizon Wireless added a robust 7.5 million customers in 2005 and is less than 3 million customers behind Cingular. Verizon Wireless’ customer base is 51.3 million.
The merged Sprint Nextel Corp. slides into third-the same spot occupied by Sprint prior to the acquisition of the former Nextel Communications Inc. The carrier’s acquisition of Nextel shortens the list from five national carriers to four. Sprint Nextel’s results, with the exception of covered POPs, do not include resellers, mobile virtual network operators or affiliates except those acquired by the end of 2005: U.S. Unwired, Gulf Coast Holdings and IWO Holdings. Since the start of 2006, Sprint Nextel has acquired affiliates Enterprise Communications Partnership (about 52,000 subscribers) and Alamosa Holdings (1.5 million subscribers), and announced the acquisition of Nextel Partners (about 2 million subscribers). When all the affiliates and Sprint’s MVNOs are included, the carrier has just shy of 50 million customers on its network. Sprint Nextel affiliates that remained independent as of Dec. 31, 2005, will be included on the RCR Wireless News U.S. Carriers-2nd Tier list, which will be available in the April 17 issue.
2005 was a banner year for the top four carriers, with more than 12.5 million net customer additions; the fourth quarter was particularly strong, with nearly all the carriers posting record customer gains. All four operators managed to lower their churn rates from 2004, with Cingular in particular posting improvement from 2.7 percent to 2.2 percent churn. However, the wireless saturation in the U.S. market is beginning to show, with an increasing number of prepaid subscribers showing up and, concurrently, average revenue per user sliding.
The RCR Wireless News “By-the-Numbers” list is the property of RCR Wireless News and should not be construed as an endorsement of the companies listed below. Ranking information from this feature cannot be reprinted without written permission from RCR Wireless News. (c)