U.S. wireless carriers are all battling for new customers this holiday season, slashing prices on smartphones more aggressively this year than last -- all except for Verizon Communications, according to Credit Suisse.
As AT&T, T-Mobile US and Sprint compete with stepped-up promotional offers for Android and iOS devices, higher equipment losses and content costs are likely to affect profit margins, analyst Douglas Mitchelson said. Verizon's absence in the discounting frenzy suggests that it didn't need to participate.
"The high-level takeaway is that wireless competition is a bit more aggressive, albeit tactically around just this Black Friday sales stretch," he wrote in a report published Wednesday. "Verizon declining to match competitors' stepped up promotions suggests that its 4Q market share has been tracking well."
In addition to the carriers' rivalry, the four are also facing increased competition from mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, operated by cable providers such as Xfinity Mobile, Spectrum Mobile and Altice Mobile.
That said, cost-curbing efforts elsewhere, according to Mitchelson, should lead to Ebitda growth acceleration of 5% year-over-year in the fourth quarter.
AT&T has outperformed rivals this year, up 32% compared to T-Mobile's 24% climb, Verizon's 7% rise, and Sprint's 2.4% gain.
Verizon's "buy one get one free" or BOGO offers are similar to last year's. Credit Suisse expects the carrier to use Apple Music and Disney+, which weren't available last year, to sweeten its deals. Unlimited plan buyers get 12 months of free Disney streaming with the service, driving upgrades from metered plans. Apple Music is also free for six months on the lowest tier, a carrot for customers to pay more for unlimited plans at the end date, Credit Suisse said.
Meanwhile, AT&T is offering new lines free iPhone XRs and mid-range Android phones verus its BOGO offers for similar phones in 2018. T-Mobile is giving away the iPhone 11 for new unlimited service plan sign ups, a huge step up from last year's BOGO deal on the iPhone X. And Sprint is offering a $0 per month lease with trade-ins for the iPhone 11 as well as the Samsung Galaxy S10; they didn't offer the latest iOS models last yea