USA Saw Lowest Ever Annual Subscriber Growth in 2008

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Although the American market did not suffer quite so badly as the Canadian market in the fourth quarter it did see a disappointing figure for net additions. The quarterly gain of 4.15m represented the lowest increase since 2002 and it was 58% lower than the 6.55m recorded in Q4 07. The total market reached 271m customers equivalent to a penetration rate of 88.8%. Meanwhile the inexorable decline in annual growth continued 2008 saw an uplift of just 6.1% the lowest figure ever recorded in the market in more than 25 years of service.

Apart from declining growth, the other significant trend in the American market in recent times has been consolidation. In Q4 07 Dobson and Rural Cellular were acquired by AT&T and Verizon Wireless respectively, and SunCom Wireless followed shortly afterwards, T-Mobile snapping it up in Q1 08. Later in the year, AT&T announced that it was to acquire Centennial Communications. However, all of these deals paled in comparison alongside Verizon's merger with Alltel, which will create the largest mobile company by customer numbers in the country - even after some enforced disposals due to overlapping properties - thereby usurping AT&T.

Based on end-2008 figures, before disposals, the merged entity would have had 86.16m customers and 31.8% market share. This gives it a clear lead over AT&T, which finished the year with 77.01m customers and 28.4% share. Sprint, which is too busy trying to retain its own customers to think about buying anyone else's, was a distant third on 49.27m, having suffered a total loss of 4.58m in 2008. Meanwhile, T-Mobile had 32.76m, equivalent to 12.1% market share.

The acquisition of Alltel means that there are now no US mobile operators with between 6m and 30m customers. In fifth and sixth places respectively are MetroPCS and Leap Wireless, the fastest growing operators in the country. MetroPCS grew by 35.4% in 2008 to finish on 5.37m while Leap was up by an almost equally impressive 34.3% to 3.84m. The only other operators to manage double-digit growth were T-Mobile (14.2%) and the almost-defunct Alltel (10.3%).

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