Framingham, Mass. - Sixty-five percent of net retail subscribers acquired by the top U.S. carriers in the fourth quarter were prepaid subscribers, and all carriers' data revenues grew in the quarter to account for 27 percent of all revenues,
In the quarter, the top carriers added slightly fewer than 4.2 million net retail subscribers, 65 percent of whom were prepaid subscribers, the research company said. That percentage is up among the top carriers from the year ago's 49 percent, IDC told TWICE.
Also during the quarter, the top carriers added more than 22 million gross retail subscribers, or new subscribers before subscriber deactivations are factored in. Retail subscribers are defined as subscribers acquired directly by the carriers and not by mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that resell their service.
The top carriers in the study were AT&T, Sprint/Boost/Virgin, Leap Wireless, MetroPCS, T-Mobile, TracFone and U.S. Cellular.
Industrywide, combined data revenues for all U.S. carriers grew to $11.8 billion dollars in the fourth quarter, up 23 percent from a year-ago $9.6 billion, IDC told TWICE. The company expects data to continue driving carrier revenues growth, with industrywide data revenues exceeding $50 billion in 2010. "With the larger carriers trying to get more consumers to spend more of their wireless dollars on data, look for data revenue to continue to grow in the future," analyst Richard Murphy said. "Carriers are attempting to get as many of their customers as possible to use smartphones. And since most smartphones have data requirements, data revenue will increase."
On the prepaid topic, Murphy said the market "will remain very competitive," noting that "you have five carriers that are competing for every subscriber in that arena." Underscoring prepaid's growth, IDC said prepaid carrier TracFone added more than 1.2 million net new subscribers in the fourth quarter and that Verizon Wireless added more than 1.2 million net new subscribers, prepaid and postpaid combined. AT&T gained 852,000 net new subs during the quarter.