T-Mobile Claims It Holds the Top Spot in Prepaid Wireless Market

The prepaid wireless market claims come just as T-Mobile's rumored potential merger with Sprint is called off.


A day after its long-rumored merger with Sprint fell apart, T-Mobile released figures that it claims now give it leadership in the growing prepaid wireless marketplace.

T-Mobile US said in an announcement that it now has 15.64 million prepaid wireless customers, compared with 15.19 million such customers for rival Sprint. Meanwhile, AT&T has 11.34 million prepaid customers, while Verizon Wireless reports 6.04 million prepaid customers, according to T-Mobile's announcement.

The source of the statistics was not revealed in the announcement, and T-Mobile did not immediately respond to a request from eWEEK on Aug. 7 for the source of the data.

John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile US, said in a statement that he predicts his company will overtake Sprint in total customers by the end of this year. "Not someday. Not next year. This year," he said. "Americans are voting with their feet, and they're joining this Un-carrier revolution by the millions."

T-Mobile merged in May 2013 with prepaid wireless carrier MetroPCS, bringing it more customers and tripling its market reach to 45 major metro areas and nearly 10,000 stores, according to a previous eWEEK report. T-Mobile also now claims more than 50 million customers overall, the company said.

The prepaid wireless numbers were perhaps the only good news for T-Mobile this week, since they were unveiled the day after the rumored merger with Sprint came apart. For months, Sprint had been rumored to be seeking a merger with T-Mobile so that the two struggling companies could join together and fight harder to compete with mobile powers Verizon Wireless and AT&T. But all of the talk for months was just rumors, since neither company would comment publicly about any such alliance.

In June, T-Mobile's prepaid wireless offerings got a boost when the company announced the availability of Apple iPhone 5S smartphones for prepaid customers for the first time, according to an earlier eWEEK story. Customers must make their purchases in Apple stores for the prepaid service. Also announced was a deal allowing Costco customers to also be able to buy an iPhone 5S, an iPad Mini with Retina display or an iPad Air with T-Mobile service.

T-Mobile's latest prepaid wireless customer news also came the same day that rival and merger hopeful Sprint announced that it is replacing its CEO, Dan Hesse, with Marcelo Claure, the founder and CEO of Brightstar, a subsidiary of SoftBank, which is also Sprint's parent company.

Meanwhile, even as the merger rumors have been swirling recently around Sprint and T-Mobile, another player, French telecom Iliad, has made its own bid to acquire T-Mobile, according to a recent eWEEK report.

Earlier this week, the Federal Communications Commission floated a new proposal to block telecoms from partnering together to go after available segments of wireless spectrum as they arise so that competition for the limited resource is kept more equitable. The proposal, which was launched by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Aug. 1, would help keep larger telecoms from taking over more of the wireless spectrum at the expense of smaller players, according to an Aug. 1 blog post by Robert C. Sherman, the FCC's wireless telecommunications bureau chief.

The FCC proposal would have likely hurt a potential Sprint, T-Mobile alliance, making the timing of the latest report particularly interesting. The issue surfaced at the FCC following the rumors about a potential merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, and the possibility that the two companies would try to "partner up" for wireless spectrum before a merger was even completed.

Such a scenario would not have been appreciated by the FCC, wrote Sherman. "Our goal is to promote the participation of as many parties as possible in the auction. If two of the largest companies are able to bid as one combined entity in the auction, their combined resources may have the effect of suppressing meaningful competition. Therefore, the item tentatively concludes that joint bidding arrangements between nationwide providers should not be allowed. It also asks questions about such arrangements between providers of different sizes."

The FCC wants to have the proposed ban on partnering in place before the next wireless spectrum auction takes place, he wrote.

The original Sprint, T-Mobile merger rumors heated up in June with a report in The New York Times that a deal was pending for Sprint to buy its rival for $32 billion. None of the involved companies, including T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom, ever confirmed or officially announced such a deal.