Wireless Round up: T-Mobile subs grow; Leap, Metro expand

T-Mobile reported 981,000 new net subscribers for the 1st quarter bringing its total up to 30.8 million. T-Mobile continues to make the transition from the tiny Tier I to a large operator in its own right. It was helped along by its the closing of its acquisition of SunCom Mobile in February, which added another 1.1 million subscribers (not included in the net adds) to its roles. Still, T-Mobile has a long way to go to catch up to the big three. AT&T ended the quarter with 71.4 million subs, and Verizon Wireless with 67.2 million. Sprint, the No. 3 and most struggling operator, still hasn’t reported its Q1 results (coming Monday), but it had 54 million customers at the end of 2007. Of course, T-Mobile may being doing a lot better in the customer count in the next few quarters if any of the swirling rumors about Deutsche Telekom buying Sprint prove true–operationally, that would be another story

Revenue-wise, T-Mobile delivered an monthly ARPU of $51 a month, including pre-and post-paid subscribers. As with the other operators, data continues to be a growing part of the haul. Data ARPU rose from $7.50 to $8.50 a month year-over-year, accounting for 16.6% of service revenue, but most of it was from messaging. Still, T-Mobile said data plan access to its GPRS and EDGE networks is a strong component of that mix. T-Mobile has one of the lowest data plans in the market charging only $7 a month for unlimited access. If the price remains the same as it continues the 3G roll-out started early this week, that may, it could gain a lot more subscriptions. Or maybe not: So far the AWS 3G phones offered on the T-Mobile have been low-end to mid-range phones focusing more on voice than data, but T-Mobile assures that more advanced data devices are on the way.

MetroPCS’s expansion plans are starting to see results. Though a fraction the size of T-Mobile, Metro brought in half as many customers in Q1, 452,000 subs to be exact. Metro launched in Los Angeles in September and turned up its first network using its new AWS spectrum in Las Vegas in March. Metro also took over PTA and Cleartalk’s networks in Jacksonville, FL, last week, though those subscribers didn’t factor in Metro’s Q1 numbers. Of the almost half million net adds, 317,000 came from its expansion markets. The all-you-can-eat-plan service provider is also promising some large launches: Philadelphia in Q4, followed by Boston and NYC in the first half of next year. Those three markets will expand its footprint from 60 million to 100 million pops. At the end quarter, Metro had 4.4 million total subscribers.

Fellow regional provider Leap Wireless is continuing its AWS expansion as well. Leap turned up new networks in Corpus Christi, Laredo and McAllen, Texas, using the new spectrum it acquired in 2006’s auction. It launched its first market in Oklahoma City in April, being just barely beat by Metro but with a more extensive footprint and more distribution channels.

On the services side, Cellular South got into mobile banking this week with fellow Mississippian Banccorp South. The app, supplied by Qualcomm’s Firethorn, allows customers to check account balances, transfer funds and pay bills from their phones. In fact, it’s a very similar service to the one Bancorp South supplies to AT&T customers through Firethorn.

Prepaid services are also taking a different direction. Sprint’s prepaid arm, Boost Mobile introduced a $1 a day prepaid plan, allowing customers unlimited evening calls and mobile-to-mobile calls with other Boost, Sprint or Nextel customers, but calls outside of the network between 7 AM and 9 PM  cost 10 cents a minute. Customers can also add push-to-talk for a $1 a day. If the plan sounds familiar, it’s because T-Mobile launched the identical pricing scheme last week (minus the push-to-talk). We may be seeing the same domino effect with prepaid that we saw with postpaid unlimited plans earlier this year.

And lest we forget handsets, Verizon Wireless launched its second fancy touch-screen feature phone today: the Samsung Glyde. After achieving suprising success with the LG Voyager touch-screen phone over the holidays, Verizon Wireless is going after more iPhone-esque devices. If you can’t get the iPhone itself, why not get multiple imitations?

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