US Wireless Market Update Q2 2013

US Wireless Market Update Q2 2013

US Mobile Market Update Q2 2013


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The US mobile data market grew 4% Q/Q and 14% Y/Y to reach $21 billion in mobile data revenues. Data is now 46% of the US mobile industry service revenues and as we had forecasted a few years back, the cross-over point of 50% might occur later this year. For the year 2013, we are expecting $90 Billion in mobile data service revenues for the US market.

For the quarter, the market added a paltry 139K new connections, a decline of 95% from Q2 2012. It was the lowest net-adds quarter in the US mobile history (barring the early days of tepid growth). The biggest reason was the sun setting of the Nextel brand which was finally laid to rest after the grand experiment of 2004 went wrong.

However, the story of the quarter was the resurgence of T-Mobile which roared back with an industry leading net-add quarter, something it did last when George Bush was still the president. Not only that, the growth was on the back of postpaid net-adds, something it hasn’t done in 12 quarters. The merger with Metro has helped boost the subscriber count and the revenue numbers. However, the growth came at a cost with shrinking margins and lower overall ARPU.

AT&T sold more iPhones but Verizon sold more smartphones. Given the lack of new devices from Apple and some good ones from competitors, Android edged past iOS for the US smartphone market share for the quarter primarily coming from the Samsung success with the Galaxy brand. Nokia launched some new devices focused on cameras, Motorola/Google made its first foray into the smartphone world after the merger with MotoX. However, the market awaits the next iPhone which is going to be released next month.

The Sprint-Softbank-Dish drama finally ended and as expected Softbank got a hold of both Sprint and Clearwire though at a higher price which was the plan all along. With this merger behind, all eyes are squarely focused on T-Mobile as to who makes the bid for 4th ranked operator in the next 6-12 months.

Smartphones are now past the 60% mark in the US and continue to sell at a brisk pace accounting for almost 87% of the devices sold in Q2 2013. Apple led the smartphone sales amongst the top 4 operators with 42% share for the quarter. While the US penetration of smartphones is 60%, the 60% of the sub base is concentrated in only 35% of the households thus leaving plenty of growth in the marketplace.

Is the smartphone growth over?

There has been some speculation in the market that the smartphone growth in the US market is over. In the US, roughly 240M subscribers have 335M mobile subscriptions. Out of those 240 subs, roughly 145M have smartphones (many of them have two or more). These days newborns get an iPhone on their arrival as a welcome gift, but if we take out the 0-5 age group, we are left with 293M potential subs. This means the potential market for smartphones at this point in time is 148M subs who don’t have a smartphone (obviously, there will always be folks who just don’t want any wireless phone – smartphone or otherwise but the size of that group is shrinking). Add to the upgrade cycle which averages between 18-20 months in the US, the market for smartphone growth remains pretty healthy.

The global market is even more fertile. The emerging markets are quite price sensitive and the low-cost Android devices are rushing to fill the void. If Apple cares about market share, it will have to figure out a strategy to address the void in its portfolio.

The success factor of mobile devices and OEMs is not determined just by product but several other factors as outlined in our recent paper “What Really Drives Mobile Device Performance?” As I mentioned to the New York Times, it is no longer good enough to have a great product, an OEM needs to perform well across multiple variables. CNBC also referenced the research in one of their segments.

Predictably, Microsoft’s Surface RT made a dismal impact on the market. The fundamental strategy was flawed and it was surprising that so many OEMs fell for it.

Blackberry, Nokia, HTC, each once proud leader of the smartphone ecosystem is struggling. Can they come back? In this market, you don’t get too many chances and too many years to turn the ship around. Once the customer loyalty is lost, it is very hard to get it back because there are hungry competitors ready to take your spot. Blackberry and Nokia are a perfect case study for management schools. The cycle of complacency spares no one.

A more likely scenario for some of these players might be some form of M&A transaction. As we alluded to in our paper, Lenovo is the dark horse of mobile and while there are others like HP and Sony who are looking to, reenergize the market, and Huawei and ZTE inching-up every quarter, Lenovo seems better positioned to make an acquisition and make a run for the top 3 spot. But, it will have to make a decisive move and go global with its strategy quickly else as we know the mobile market doesn’t wait for no one.

In terms of Q/Q growth, Connected Devices segment grew 13%, Wholesale 1%, Postpaid 2%, and Prepaid 1%.

The disappearing Tier-2s

In our previous update, we suggested that the market for tier-2s in the US is practically over. The reason was pretty simple – there is no growth left for them. Given the postpaid saturation, the big guys are also focusing heavily on the prepaid segment leaving the tier-2s vulnerable. MetroPCS was first to go followed by Leap (acquired by AT&T, transaction is not complete yet). The next big shakeup in the industry will be the acquisition or the merger with T-Mobile. Like we suggested in our paper “Competition and the Evolution of Mobile Markets” in 2011, rule of 3 will ultimately prevail in the US market. We will be discussing the subject in the more detail at our Mobile Future Forward Summit next month.

The Fourth Wave and the shift towards services

It is evident that there is a subtle shift from devices/access to services/solutions. In our paper on the topic “Operator’s Dilemma (and opportunity): The Fourth Wave”, I proposed that we need a new framework to think about the next generation of revenue opportunities. The fourth curve opportunities are massive but require a different skill set and strategic approach than the past three curves. As predicted, we are starting to see the impact of the 4th wave on a global scale and some operators have started to break out the 4th wave revenues in their financials. Operators with better balance sheets will also look for global expansion especially in Europe where economic impact on the telcom operators has been severe, however the M&A efforts will be complicated by respective governments desire to keep control of the national infrastructure provider.

The incumbent operators in Canada are getting really nervous about the potential entry of Verizon into the market that hasn’t seen any “real” competition in years.

We will be discussing fourth wave in much more detail at our annual thought-leadership summit – Mobile Future Forward with the incredible leaders who are making billion dollar decisions every day.

OTT impact on legacy businesses and models

We will see the same impact of IP and mobility on the various verticals like Retail, Energy, Education, Entertainment, Travel, etc. Some operators have been preparing for this shift and going outside their traditional products and services to launch services like AT&T’s Digital Life to address opportunities in the home, Verizon’s efforts in health and public safety and Sprint’s steps in mobile advertising and analytics. Overseas operators such as Telefonica, Vodafone, Tata, and others are looking to make inroads into the US mobile 4th wave market.

What to expect in the coming months?

All this has setup an absolutely fascinating 2013 in the communication/computing industry. Convergence is everywhere and is leading to a fundamental reset of the value chains and ecosystems. Players who firmly attach themselves to the 4th wave will reap benefits while the ones who miss it will see their fortunes dwindle. We are gearing up for our annual Mobile Brainstorm Summit – Mobile Future Forward on Sept 10th, hope you can join us.

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 Q2 2013 US wireless data market is:

Service Revenues

  • The US Wireless data service revenues grew 4% Q/Q and 14% Y/Y to over $21.7B in Q2 2013. For the year 2013, we are forecasting that mobile data revenues in the US market will reach $90 billion.
  • Verizon and AT&T dominated the quarter accounting for 71% of the mobile data services revenue and had 65% of the subscription base.
  • Verizon and AT&T maintained its #1 & #2 mobile data revenue ranking in Q2 2013. Sprint and T-Mobile also maintained their rankings in the top 10 global mobile operators.


  • The Overall ARPU declined by $0.57. Average voice ARPU declined by $1.17 while the average data ARPU grew by $0.61 or 3% Q/Q.
  • The average industry percentage contribution of data to overall ARPU is now at the 46% mark in Q2 2013 and is likely to exceed the 50% in 2013. All the top four top US operators are over the 40% mark. (For reference, all three major Japanese operators are now close to the 70% mark).


  • The US operators added only 139K net-adds to the ecosystem, its lowest in the history of the US wireless industry.
  • T-Mobile’s postpaid saw positive growth for the first time in 12 quarters. It added 688K postpaid subs ahead of all but Verizon.
  • For the first time in six years, T-Mobile led in net-adds, just edging out Verizon.
  • Sprint finally laid the Nextel brand to rest but it came at the expense of the churn rate which climbed and as a result the net-decline was over 2M subs.
  • 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 saw positive results. The tablet and other device attachment rate has gone up by 60%.

· Shared data plans are working so well for AT&T that most of its postpaid growth is coming from tablets. In the last 4 quarters, postpaid tablets accounted for over 72% of the net-adds.

· Shared data plans moved tablet session based consumers to postpaid tablet plans with more predictable revenue stream. The $10 surcharge for every device is still an inhibitor for many consumers. Over time, we expect this fee to go away to bring in many more consumers experience data services across devices other than their smartphones.

Applications and Services

· The market is seeing a lot of activity in the mobile commerce and payment services as well as in various industry verticals like healthcare, retail, and education. We will be discussing how mobile is changing all the vertical industries at our fall summit Mobile Future Forward where industry leaders in each of these vertical segments will convene to share their experiences and expectations.

  • The cloud and security segments have also gained significant traction with incumbents as well as startups launching new initiatives and technologies.

OTT and the impact on legacy services

· In the last 12 months, Whatsapp has moved around more messages than all the mobile operators in the US and China combined. Those of you who have read our Fourth Wave paper shouldn’t be surprised by this shift.


· Smartphones continued to be sold at a brisk pace accounting to almost 87% of the devices sold in Q2 2013.

  • Android edged out iOS smartphones in Q2 2013 by a 49%-47% margin. However, iOS is expected to bounce back in Q3 and Q4 which is typical due to the product release cycles.
  • At the end of Q2 2013, Samsung continued its lead in unit sale category both on the world stage as well as in the US. However, profits are a different equation where Apple overshadows its rivals like Gulliver on the Lilliput land.
  • 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. In Q2 2013, Windows device sales were roughly 0.5 million despite heavy marketing (read our paper to get more insights into why Windows hasn’t been able to make a dent so far).
  • Apple’s next set of devices are expected to be unveiled next month.
  • Verizon continues to sell more LTE smartphones as its LTE sub tally rose to 31.1M making it the leading LTE operator in the world. AT&T’s and Sprint’s LTE rollouts are gathering steam. T-Mobile is also ramping up its LTE deployment. Expect the “fastest network” marketing to continue for at least another seven quarters. Verizon reported that 60% of its total data traffic is on the LTE network now, clearly the fastest technology transitions we have seen.
  • There is always a beauty contest amongst operators as to who sold more iPhones. AT&T again bested its rivals by selling roughly 42% of the iPhones in the US.

4th Wave Solutions

· There were several launches of digital services by the operators but the most prominent has been the Digital Life home security and automation service launched by AT&T.

· There are other instances of companies revving up their mobile revenue base. Facebook is on its way to cross the 50% threshold, Pandora is at 60%, and Twitter is close to 50%. Starbucks and Expedia are doing well in their respective verticals. There are several mobile-only players that are eating up the revenue from traditional players who haven’t been quick to move into mobile.

· Google and Apple are ahead of the pack when it comes to raw revenue. We will have more details on the subject in our upcoming research sequel, “Mobile 4th Wave: The Evolution of the Next Trillion Dollars.”

Your feedback is always welcome.

Chetan Sharma

We will be discussing a number of issues raised in this research update at our annual mobile executive thought-leadership summit – Mobile Future Forward on Sept 10th in Seattle. Thought-leaders include:

· Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO, AT&T Mobility

· Steve Elfman, President, Sprint

· Erik Moreno, EVP, Fox Networks

· Danny Bowman, Chief Sales and Operating Officer, Samsung

· Terry Myerson, EVP – Operating Systems, Microsoft

· Julie-Woods Moss, CEO – NextGen Business, CMO, Tata Communications

· Jef Holove, CEO, Basis

· Geeta Nayyar, Chief Medical Officer, AT&T

· Rowland Shaw, VP – Strategy, Ericsson

· Andrew Stalbow, EVP, Rovio

· Raj Toleti, President, Patient Point

· Manish Jha, GM – Mobile, NFL

· Drew Patterson, CEO, Room77

· Dr. Avideh Zakhor, Professor, UC Berkeley

· Rick Osterloh, SVP – Products, Motorola – Google

· Jeff Warren, VP – Mobile, Expedia

· Mark Anderson, CEO, SNS

· Doug Suriano, VP – Communications, Oracle

.. More to come

· Stephen David, former CIO, P&G

· Yung Kim, President and Chief Strategy Officer, Korea Telecom

· Glenn Lurie, President, AT&T Mobility

· Jude Buckley, President – Mobility, Best Buy

· David Small, Chief Platform Officer, Verizon Enterprise Solutions

· Tracy Isacke, Head of Americas, Telefonica Digital

· Marianne Marck, SVP – Consumer Facing Technology, Starbucks

· Henning Schulzrinne, CTO, FCC

· Fay Arjomandi, Global Lead, Vodafone Xone

· Biju Nair, EVP and CSO, Synchronoss

· Hank Skorny, VP/GM – Software Services, Intel

· Curtis Kopf, VP – Customer Innovation, Alaska Airlines

· Matt Carter, President – Emerging Solutions, Sprint

· Joost Schreve, VP – Mobile, Tripadvisor

· Rod Randall, Partner, Siris Capital

· Chris Koopmans, VP and GM – Cloud, Citrix ByteMobile

· Wim Sweldens, former President, Alcatel-Lucent Wireless

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 November 2013. The next Global Wireless Data Market update will be issued in October 2013.

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