Which is the Hottest US Carrier in Q3?

According to the Counterpoint US Online/Offline Channel Share Tracker, the quick answer is T-Mobile. The ‘un-carrier’ is punching above its weight (or smartphone base) in the net-add race and churn metrics through the first six weeks of the quarter.

T-Mobile continues to run an aggressive $830 upgrade offer with a trade-in of a used device. The carrier also offers new customers or current customers (with a trade-in) a free Samsung A32, OnePlus Nord N200 5G or T-Mobile branded REVVL V+ 5G. These devices are $200-$282 at full retail price. Right now, there seems to be no end in sight to this aggressive 5G upgrade program. With T-Mobile improving its network, new opportunities have opened up within B2B, small town/rural America and fixed wireless access. Expect the carrier to continue to remain aggressive while it has a mid-band 5G rollout lead.

AT&T is having a strong start to the quarter. The carrier continues its promos and aggressive TV advertisement of upgrading its base. The third-largest carrier in the US continues to offer $700 off on many flagships with a trade-in. These promos are for both the base and existing customers.

Verizon started Q3 matching AT&T’s offer, but it ended this upgrade offer in July. We are watching if this will affect its net-adds during the quarter. So far, it appears T-Mobile and AT&T are winning the net-port war. Verizon continues to see very low churn and improving service revenue metrics with more unlimited subscribers.

Counterpoint Research - US Carrier Q2 2021 - Postpaid Phone Net Adds (in '000)
Source: Company 10Q’s

Postpaid channels continue to outperform prepaid channels. During Q2, postpaid channels added an incredible 2.25 million phone subscribers.

Where are these subscribers coming from in the mature US market?

Here are three major reasons:

  • Due to COVID-19 and extended work-from-home status, more companies issued a business line to employees. Even when lines were not business sponsored, business lines were added, many for gig economy work or simply to have a dedicated line for work-from-home.
  • Due to extended school-from-home, more children received mobile lines to communicate and help with studying.
  • Some of the subscriber gains can be attributed to carriers gaming the system. Free extra lines and large promos inflate net additions. These promos are especially prominent at the end of quarters to pad the quarterly numbers.

Other early takeaways from Q3 include:

  • Samsung saw very weak shipments in June, which led to severe shortages in July. This was mainly due to COVID-19 hitting Vietnam extremely hard. A large percentage of A-series and S-series devices are manufactured there. Production resumed in July to normal levels and August sales increased, especially for A-series where it is gaining share from LG’s exit. The COVID-19 situation remains dire in Vietnam, and the OEM also has to navigate component shortages.
  • Motorola volumes decreased significantly in August due to component shortages. It is too bad for the #3 OEM in the US as it was poised to win over considerable volumes from the exit of LG.
  • Apple continues to remain shielded from the impact of component shortages. iPhone 12-series sales continue strong with ongoing 5G promos within the major carriers. The iPhone 12 mini has seen growing sales related to a promotion within prepaid channels that offers the device for free to switchers. B2B share gains have also helped.
  • White label sales have increased due to LG and VinSmart’s exit and component shortages. T-Mobile branded REVVL devices, Cricket branded Vision, Influence, Ovation and Icon devices, and AT&T branded Calypso and Maestro Max devices have all seen higher sell-through in August. There are also opportunities for Nokia HMD and TCL if their volumes are not constrained.

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