US Mobile Market Update – Q1 2014

US Mobile Market Update – Q1 2014

US Mobile Market Update – Q1 2014


The US mobile data service revenues grew 4% Q/Q and 23% Y/Y to $25.9B in Q1 2014. In 2014, we expect US to become the first country to cross the $100B mark in mobile data services revenue. We have also started to see digital services appear in the revenue maps as more companies rely on mobile to generate their revenues.

With the acquisition of Leap, AT&T has virtually tied Verizon for market share at 34%.

T-Mobile continued to impress with 66% share of the net-adds. Even Verizon felt the heat in Q1 resulting in a subpar performance. Smartphone penetration increased to 68% and roughly 93% of the devices sold now are smartphones.

M&A Season

FCC must have cancelled all summer vacations for its staff as it is going to have a busy summer. As expected, Comcast made a bid for Time Warner and AT&T for DirectTV. Encouraged by the M&A season, Softbank is going to make a run for T-Mobile and pop the question to the FCC – so what do you think?

This in addition to the net-neutrality religious wars that have been triggered.

So, how will this all end-up?

It’s complicated.

The basic problem is that the communications and computing worlds have collided and nobody told the politicians. One can’t develop a policy framework in vacuum. It has to synchronize with the real world and with the facts on the ground. In my travels around the globe, I find that some of the most underdeveloped countries have better policy framework than some of the developed nations. Obviously, they don’t have the legacy to work with but they are more progressive in terms of national competitiveness and creation of jobs as the central underpinning of their framework.

As we noted in our 2011 research paper, “Competition and the Evolution of the mobile markets,” the mobile markets gravitate towards three player composition. Over time, every market approaches this equilibrium. We looked at the world’s top 36 markets and the average HHI (Herfindahl-Hirschman Index) for these markets is 0.344. If we just look at the developed markets, the HHI is 0.327. The US market HHI stands at a relatively lower number of 0.25 which is right at the cusp of what DOJ calls heavily concentrated and moderately concentrated markets. In fact, 30 of the 36 markets are over this line and that includes pretty much every developed market except UK.

If and when Softbank proposes the T-Mobile merger, the HHI will increase to 0.28 and will clearly cross the DOJ marker of heavily concentrated markets. For contrast, the cable industry is at 0.13 HHI. Clearly, just looking at HHI is inadequate and misleading as we showed in our paper back in 2011.

In heavy Capex industries, it is natural to have consolidation. It allows more efficient deployment of the capital or else everyone gets bloodied in the turf war as is evident in Indian mobile market which is on the verge of a major restructure.

In the last 20 years, the share of top 3 operators has grown from roughly 40% to 80%. The number of mobile subscriptions have grown 14x during the same time period.

So, will there be further consolidation in the mobile industry? Short answer is – Yes. The only thing up for debate is whether it happens in this administration or the next. As we said in the last note, T-Mobile has complicated things by being successful in the short-term. A third player with 30% market share will of course be better but T-Mobile has been able to change the market by being the fourth at 14%.

FCC’s dilemma is that it can’t evaluate these proposed mergers in isolation and Congress hasn’t done a good job of clearly defining FCC’s authority.

It is going to be an interesting summer for sure.

What’s next for Microsoft?

With a new CEO at the helm, Microsoft made some key (albeit late) changes to its strategy: Office for non-windows devices, zero-rating the OS licensing fees, doubling down on the enterprise class Surface. In light of the plummeting PC sales, Microsoft is trying to figure out its place in the post-PC world. Surface 3 is good device but there are also significant hurdles. Having failed to stem the tide of iPad and Android tablets, Microsoft seems to be focusing on the high-end by trying to change the discussion around the wisdom of carrying multiple devices.

One of the basic problem that the current strategy faces is that of articulating a valid value proposition. On the pricing axis, it doesn’t make a dent. MacBook Air is still the best notebook around and iPad is still the best tablet and you can get both of them for $1500 while a comparable Surface configuration will set you back $1200-1300, a drop of less than 20%. The reason Kindle and other sub $200 tablets got some traction was that the price difference was 60%. It forced Apple to reconsider and launch the mini to secure the mid-tier.

However, it is smart of Microsoft to fight the battle on the top end in the enterprise where their biggest strength lies rather than in the low-mid tier consumer segment which is nothing but a bloodbath for new OEMs.

The mobile ecosystem will clearly benefit from a stronger Microsoft but it has to address some key strategic questions for its partners and customers. It has started to shed some legacy constraints, is getting some product thinking behind its strategy, and is becoming more open which is a good start.

About that Google Car

The autonomous car that Google showcased earlier this week is probably the most interesting technology development in the last couple of years (in addition to whatever Elon Musk does). Given that going from point A and point B is so central to our civilization, a rethink of how it should be done is going to have profound effect on not only the existing value chains and industries but more fundamentally, how humans organize themselves as social beings. There are a number of exciting and terrifying (for some) questions in front of us – how quickly will autonomous cars become the norm in major markets – 5 years? 15 years? What does this do to the driver segment? Auto sales? Cost of transportation? Design and investment of infrastructure? Privacy and security of data? Mobile network infrastructure to support a radical societal architecture? Will tech companies become car OEMs? Should they? How quickly will the regulators catch-up? Months? Years? Decades?

I do think Google car is a perfect embodiment of the connected intelligence era and this is going to have such profound implications that we haven’t yet built a model to grasp its impact (more to come on this topic).

What to expect in the coming months?

2014 has had an excellent start and rest of the year is looking great with a slew of announcements and activities planned for the rest of the year. We have already seen some massive moves, astounding acquisitions, and interesting strategic moves.

As usual, we will be keeping a very close eye on the micro- and macro-trends and reporting on the market on a regular basis in various private and public settings.

Against this backdrop, the analysis of the Q1 2014 US wireless data market is:

Service Revenues

  • The US mobile data service revenues grew 4% Q/Q and 23% Y/Y to $25.9B in Q1 2014. For the year 2014, we expect US to become the first country to generate $100B from mobile data services.
  • Verizon and AT&T dominated the quarter accounting for 68% of the mobile data services revenue and had 68% of the subscription base.
  • Verizon and AT&T are at #2 & #3 global mobile data revenue ranking respectively in Q1 2014. Sprint and T-Mobile also maintained their rankings in the top 10 global mobile operators.
  • Revenue from new subs has declined to roughly 2%.


  • The Overall ARPU declined by $0.51. Average voice ARPU declined by $1.27 while the average data ARPU grew by $0.76 or 3% Q/Q.
  • As noted in the last update, the average industry percentage contribution of data to overall ARPU is now over 50%. US became the 7th nation to achieve this feat. Japan at 70% leads the industry.


  • In terms of total subscribers, thanks to the Leap acquisition, AT&T is virtually tied with Verizon at 34% share in terms of market share. Verizon hasn’t ceded the top spot since its acquisition of Alltel in 2008/9.
  • The US operators added 3.5M new customers. In a first, T-Mobile added twice the amount of new customers compared to the rest of the top 3 combined.
  • T-Mobile’s postpaid continued to see the positive growth for the fourth straight quarter. Verizon was impacted significantly with the smallest postpaid net-add quarter in two years. Sprint continued its losses in the postpaid segment. While T-Mobile is on its way to recover from the postpaid losses of the last few years, Sprint’s tally of postpaid losses over the last 5 years stands at 7.4M.
  • AT&T continued to lead the connected device segment with 48% market share.

Shared Data Plans

  • Shared data plans launched by Verizon and AT&T have been quite successful. The attachment rates have increased tremendously over the course of 2013-14 with more consumers opting for cellular tablets and connected devices. 50% of postpaid accounts at Verizon are now on shared plans. At AT&T, tablets are performing 2-3 times better than smartphones in postpaid net-adds.
  • Some more granular data plans for tablets have also spurred interest as the cellular broadband is becoming available on demand vs. expensive on premise Wi-Fi solutions.
  • 45% of AT&T’s postpaid accounts are on 10GB+ plans.

4th Wave Progress

  • The number of players making $100M/quarter on mobile continues to increase rapidly and these aren’t your traditional wireless players. For example, Mobile is now contributing 59% (up from 30% in Q1 2013) to Facebook’s quarterly revenues. Latest addition to the club is Twitter which is now doing 80% in mobile (of the total advertising revenue) up from 60% in 2013. There are now dozens of such players and the list is just growing. (for more discussion on the topic please see: “Mobile 4th Wave: Evolution of the Next Trillion Dollars”)
  • In 2014, we are also seeing continued investments from the operators especially AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint in non-traditional segments like home security, healthcare, insurance, automotive, enterprise mobility, advertising, and security, and others. Collectively, this is already a multi-billion dollar business in the US.
  • The cloud and security segments have also gained significant traction with incumbents as well as startups launching new initiatives and technologies.

Connected Devices

· Connected devices (non-phones) accounted for almost 50% of the net-adds in Q1 2014. This means that while there is a healthy smartphone sales pipeline, it is for the existing subs and as such net-adds for the phone business is tapering off and we can expect that new net-adds will continue to be dominated by the connected devices segment.

· Tablets form 63% of the connected devices sold.

· YOY, the connected devices segment grew 23%.

We hosted our IoT Americas session last quarter with Verizon, Ericsson, Samsung, and adidas and are planning our IoT Europe panel with Telefonica, BMW, Intel, and Worldsensing in London on June 17th.


· Smartphones continued to be sold at a brisk pace accounting almost 93% of the devices sold in Q1 2014. Within the next two years, the feature phone category will practically be extinct in the US market.

· The smartphone penetration in the US is now 68%.

· Android had its best showing in the US market with 54% share of the quarter. Q2 is expected to strong as well.

· While it is fairly clear that Windows will acquire the #3 spot behind iOS and Android, the journey to a substantial and competitive market share is still ways off. It renewed its entry into the battlefield with Windows phone last year but sales have been poor. While Microsoft has made steady progress in other regions, in the US, it’s not gaining any traction and its share remains at a measly 3%. (Read our paper to get more insights into why Windows hasn’t been able to make a dent so far).

· Verizon continues to sell more LTE smartphones as its LTE sub tally rose to 48M making it the leading LTE operator in the world. Other three operators are also deep into their LTE deployments. Expect the “fastest network” marketing to continue for at least another seven quarters. Verizon reported that 73% of its total data traffic is on the LTE network now, clearly the fastest technology transitions we have seen in the US wireless industry.

· Mobile operators also announced their VoLTE launches.

· Verizon and AT&T sell more iPhones than Android while the reverse is true for T-Mobile (by a big margin) and Sprint. There is always a beauty contest amongst operators as to who sold more iPhones. AT&T again bested its rivals by selling roughly 36% of the iPhones in the US.

Mobile Patents/IP

· 24% of the patents granted by the USPTO were mobile related. Samsung, IBM, Microsoft, Sony, and Ericsson make the top 5 patent players in mobile. We will have more details in our coming paper on Mobile Patents Landscape next month.

· US companies comprise of 50% of the top 50 list followed by Japan, China, and South Korea.

· Samsung was again the leader in mobile patents granted in 2013 in the US and worldwide. Samsung was followed by IBM, Qualcomm, RIM, LG, Sony, Microsoft, Ericsson, Google, and AT&T for the top 10 companies by mobile patent grants in 2013.

· Google made an entry into the top 10 overall mobile patents list for the first time. AT&T did the same for the mobile patents granted in 2013.

· US Mobile Operators dominate the top 10 operator rankings: Patent top 10 Rankings: AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Sprint, Verizon, Telecom Italia, Swisscom, T-Mobile, Orange, SK Telecom, and TeliaSonera.

· Mobile Infrastructure Patent top 10 Rankings: Samsung, Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Qualcomm, LG, Intel, Siemens, Fujitsu, NEC, and Panasonic.

· Mobile OEM Patent top 10 Rankings: Samsung, Microsoft, Sony, Nokia, Google, LG, RIM, Siemens, Fujitsu, and Panasonic.

· The top 5 categories for patents grants in the US for 2013 were Telecommunications, Digital Multiplexing, Digital Processing – Data Transfer, Digital Processing – Financial, and Computer Graphics.

· The top 10 filers of mobile patents in the US were IBM, Samsung, Microsoft, Sony, Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson, Google, LG, Intel and Apple. It was the first time that Samsung, Microsoft, Google and Apple showed up in the top 10 patent filers list together.

· Facebook’s mobile patent filings increased by 177% YoY.

Your feedback is always welcome.

Chetan Sharma

We will be keeping a close eye on the trends in the wireless data sector in our blog, twitter feeds, future research reports, articles, and our annual thought-leadership summit – Mobile Future Forward. The next US Wireless Data Market update will be released in Aug 2014. The next Global Wireless Data Market update will be issued in July 2014.

Disclaimer: Some of the companies mentioned in this paper are our clients.

We will be discussing many of the ecosystem and technology issues, opportunities and challenges for the coming years in our annual mobile executive summit Mobile Future Forward on Sept 24th in Seattle. Some of the confirmed speakers are Dan Hesse, CEO, Sprint; Tim Campos, CIO, Facebook; Ben Fried, CIO, Google; JD Howard, GM and VP, Lenovo; Erik Moreno, SVP, Fox Networks; Glenn Lurie, President, AT&T; Steve Mills, CIO, Motorola Mobility; Mark Fernandez, Partner, Sierra Ventures; Dave Webb, CIO, Equifax; John Saw, CNO, Sprint; Hank Skorny, VP/GM, Intel; Hassan Ahmed, CEO, Affirmed, and many more to come. We hope to see you there for the brainstorm.