ABI: China Mobile most profitable carrier; top 5 operators account for 49% of profits

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At least on the bottom line, size still remains king for wireless carriers. According to a new report from ABI Research, China Mobile was the world’s most profitable wireless carriers during the second quarter of this year, raking in more than $10.1 billion in gross profits for the quarter.

While still on top of the heap, profits for the world’s largest wireless operator increased just .2% year-over-year. The carrier ended the second quarter with approximately 740 million customers on its network, which ABI noted equated to just $16.40 in gross profits per customer, which was No. 48 on its list of most profitable operators.

ABI report

U.S.-based Verizon Wireless secured a distant No. 2 position in the rankings, pulling in a hearty $8.5 billion in gross profits for the quarter, though that number was impressive considering the carrier served just over 100 million customers, thus squeezing $71.80 from each customer. Verizon Wireless also managed to grow its profits 10.2% year-over-year, leading some further evidences to Verizon Communications investment of $130 billion to acquire the 45% stake in the mobile operator it did not already control.

Verizon Wireless rival AT&T Mobility was No. 3 in the ranking with $6.5 billion in gross profits for the second quarter, which was down 3.6% year-over-year and resulted in a per-customer profit of $60.40. Spain-based Telefonica was No. 4 on the list with $4.4 billion in profits for the quarter, which was down 9.3% year-over-year, while U.K.-based Vodafone Group rounded out the top five with just under $4 billion in gross profits for the quarter, a 25% year-over-year surge.

ABI research associate Marina Lu noted that mobile data services continue to be a driving force in profits for carriers, stating that the increased use of such services by customers in China will likely result in China Mobile increasing its lead in gross profits over its much smaller rivals. The firm also explained that growing adoption of non-traditional services by customers of Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility will boost their data revenues and enable the carriers to offset decline profits from voice and messaging services.

“This is a wider phenomenon,” added Jake Saunders, VP and practice director at ABI. “Confronted with reduced voice revenue as a consequence of lower minutes of use and downward pressure on voice pricing per minute, even in emerging markets, mobile operators are aggressively encouraging the adoption of mobile data services.”

Overall, ABI found that the top five wireless operators in terms of gross profits accounted for 49% of the total gross profits generated by the 50 largest mobile operators tracked by the research firm. Indeed, size is a wonderful quality.

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Dan Meyer

Editor-in-Chief, Telecom Software, Policy, Wireless Carriers
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Dan Meyer started at RCR Wireless News in 1999 covering wireless carriers and wireless technologies. As editor-in-chief, Dan oversees editorial direction, reports on news from the wireless industry, including telecom software, policy and wireless carriers, and provides opinion stories on topics of concern to the market such as his popular Friday column “Worst of the Week.”

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