North America Operators in 2006: The Top 10

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The North American market bears some similarities to that in the Russian and Central Asian region which also features in this issue of the Briefing. In both a single national market absolutely dominates the entire region. Both of the major countries Russia and the USA are themselves divided into regions and sub regions for the purposes of telecommunications licensing. This means that both markets are made up of national or near national operators regional players and some local businesses of such insignificance that for once they slip below our radar.

In Russia and Central Asia, Russia accounts for all but 20m of the region's customers, while in North America, the USA's figures constitute all but 19m of 252m. (For the record, the smallest US operator we track is Ntelos, a company with some 367k customers, or 0.16% of the US total.) There is, however, one really major difference between the two regions and that is the diversity of technology in use. Yes, there are a few NMT and CDMA customers in the RCA region, even a few AMPS and TDMA remnants, but the vast majority of the market is GSM (see Russia & Central Asia Q4 2006 Technology Roundup).

Not so in the USA, where GSM takes second place to the home grown CDMA standard. This has important consequences for penetration levels, as CDMA (and TDMA) customers are measured by reference to handset ownership, whereas GSM and W-CDMA customers are measured in terms of SIMs - which are cheap enough to give away.

The North American network operators list continues to be headed by Cingular, now rebranded as AT&T. It has held on to its lead over Verizon, but the gap between the two continues to narrow and is now down to less than one percentage point. The two operators ended the year with 61.0m and 59.1m customers respectively. Third place is taken by Sprint Nextel, as it was last year. Sprint Nextel now lags Verizon by 6m customers and the gap seems to be increasing, as the operator continues to grapple with the problem of how to stop churn off its iDEN system.

T-Mobile is a distant fourth behind these three, but its position is in some ways analogous to that of Tele2 in Russia. It too has been gaining market share at a rapid rate, but, unlike the Russian company, it has full national coverage (even if it doesn't have as much spectrum as it might like in all markets). The last place in the top five is also taken by an American company, Alltel Wireless, which had 11.7m subscribers at the end of 2006.

The bottom half of the top ten is rather more mixed, with three Canadian companies breaking the US dominance. The first company from north of the border is Rogers Communications, which ended 2006 with just under 7m customers, ahead of Bell Mobility, the mobile arm of Bell Canada, which has moved into seventh place with a year-end total of 5.9m. US Cellular, the sixth largest wireless company in the USA, is the company to lose out, as it added just 0.34m new customers over the course of 2006. It now takes eighth place, ahead of TELUS, the third largest Canadian company, which has just passed the 5m mark. The process of consolidation in the US market has been such that tenth placed Leap Wireless is little more than one thirtieth the size of first placed AT&T. However, it is a new name on this list, having taken the place of Metro PCS.

This article was extracted from The Mobile World Briefing, the weekly newsletter from The Mobile World. To download a sample issue of the Briefing in PDF format, please click here. For more information including full subscription pricing, please visit The Mobile World"

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Tags: w-cdma  leap wireless  alltel  iden  sprint nextel  tele2  rogers  churn  tdma 

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