iPhone Launch Sales Below Forecasts; AT&T's Wireless Data Revenue Also Light

AT&T activated 146,000 iPhone subscribers in the first two days the mobile phone was on sale, the carrier said today in conjunction with its second quarter financial results. Depending on how you slice up the weekend — only the first two days of sales fit into the second fiscal quarter — that’s either a little or a lot lower than what some observers were estimating.

American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu, for example, had pegged sales during those two days at about 250,000 units. Unless Sunday, July 1, was a magical day for iPhone sales (doubtful considering that some stores were sold out by then), it’s unlikely Apple sold more than 300,000 iPhones the first three days, deflating some prior sales forecasts of 500,000 to 700,000 units. Apple may shed more light tomorrow afternoon in its earnings presentation.

AT&T, the largest U.S. wireless carrier, also reported uninspiring second-quarter wireless data revenue results. Data and entertainment services, such as text messaging and wireless Web access, are a key growth area as customers spend less and less for plain-vanilla phone calls. AT&T customers spent an average $8.77 per month on data service during the quarter. While that’s an 11% increase from the prior quarter and a 52% increase from the year-ago period, it’s still less than the $9.25 per month average data revenue that rival Sprint Nextel, which leads the industry in this metric, reported for this year’s first quarter.

It will be interesting to see how iPhone sales contribute to wireless data revenue in future quarters, as iPhone subscribers are required to get data service as part of their contract.  It’s not clear how much of the monthly plan will be accounted as data revenue.

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