Despite its problems, No. 3 wireless carrier Sprint Nextel (S) is still beating its rivals at a game they all want to win: Getting subscribers to shell out for mobile data services, ranging from text and picture messaging to mobile Web subscriptions, BlackBerry plans, etc.
- During Q3, Sprint subscribers — not including Nextel, its walkie-talkie network with less-advanced phones — spent an average $16.50 per month on data services.
- Even including Nextel, Sprint came in first place with $13.50 per month average data revenue.
- Verizon Wireless, the No. 2 carrier, came in next with $13.30 in average monthly data revenue.
- AT&T, the biggest carrier, reported $12.30.
- T-Mobile reported $8.90. (But they’re just getting started rolling out their fast, “3G” data network, which had limited their data sales.)
Why does this matter? Because now that most Americans own mobile phones, carriers are counting on data services for most of their revenue growth.
Can Sprint keep its lead this quarter? The carrier is getting good uptake for its $99/month “Simply Everything” plan, which includes unlimited data use — and contributes $30 per user, per month to Sprint’s data revenue tally.
Meanwhile, Verizon’s (VZ) levels might dip in the next few quarters as they integrate customers from Alltel, the wireless carrier it’s buying for $28 billion.
Similarly, AT&T’s data bills could grow as more of its subscribers buy Apple (AAPL) iPhones and RIM (RIMM) BlackBerries, which require monthly Internet subscriptions around $30 — plus whatever text messaging package buyers choose. Note that iPhone App Store purchases are not included in these figures, because AT&T doesn’t bill the customer for those downloads — Apple does.
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