AT&T added 2.1 million mobile subscribers in the third quarter of 2011 for a total of 100.7 million wireless customers at the end of the period, the company told investors Thursday. Wireless revenue rose 2.8 percent year-over-year to $15.6 billion -- despite the fact that the year-earlier period had featured the launch of the Apple iPhone 4.
AT&T executives said its third-quarter mobile handset sales would have been even stronger were it not for the fact that customers delayed their smartphone upgrades until the release of Apple's new iPhone 4S. Financial analysts had initially expected the new iPhone to arrive in September.
Since last Friday's iPhone 4S launch, Apple's new model has been selling like gangbusters, said AT&T Senior Vice President Brooks McCorcle.
"We have activated more than a million iPhones since the launch through Tuesday, which makes it the strongest launch in our company's history," McCorcle said Thursday.
Even without the new iPhone 4S, AT&T said it activated 2.7 million iPhones in this year's September-ending quarter and succeeded in selling 4.8 million smartphones overall.
"We believe the best is yet to come," said Ralph de la Vega, the CEO of AT&T's mobility and consumer markets unit. "We expect blockbuster smartphone sales in the fourth quarter," he said during Thursday's conference call.
A Smartphone Majority
AT&T said nearly half the company's third-quarter smartphone sales were non-iPhone devices. The carrier's Android device sales during the three months through September more than doubled in comparison with AT&T's Android device sales in the same period last year.
AT&T added 505,000 connected devices to its network in the third quarter of 2011, including 290,000 tablets.
With respect to the carrier's 68.6 million postpaid wireless subscribers, 52.6 percent were smartphone customers at the end of the third quarter, compared with 39.1 percent in the same period last year.
"But I think the way we need to think about smartphones in the future is the smartphone is going to equal the phone," de la Vega predicted. Smartphones will be at "100 percent in the next two or three years [because] these devices are so good and the costs are coming down so much."
Laying the Groundwork
Subscriber defections from AT&T to other networks -- called the "churn rate" -- declined from 1.43 percent in the prior quarter to 1.28 percent in the three months through September.
"We continue to invest in our network so that we now have two-thirds of our mobile data traffic that goes across our advanced Ethernet network," McCorcle said. "Put that together with our HSPA+ technology and you have a speed that is really, really fast for consumers," she added.
AT&T's first LTE 4G markets also are up and running, and the wireless carrier plans to be operational in 15 U.S. metropolitan areas by the end of this year.
"By the end of the year, we expect to have LTE service in at least 15 cities covering 17 million POPs, and we'll be turning up Boston and Washington D.C. next," de la Vega told analysts. "We can produce the megabyte a lot cheaper on LTE, and it's also more spectrally efficient."
Additionally, AT&T continues to work toward a successful completion of the carrier's planned merger with T-Mobile USA.
"The next waves in the mobile Internet revolution represent tremendous growth potential, and we are laying the groundwork required for that future," said AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephens.