Verizon’s (NYSE:VZ) advertising campaign is no longer true. Those Verizon commercials that proudly exclaim that the mobile carrier has the largest network are no longer completely accurate. Verizon is not bigger than all of its competition. The carrier is currently tied with AT&T (NYSE:T) as of the first-quarter of 2014, according to estimates by analyst Chetan Sharma.
Verizon proudly held onto that title since 2009, when it bought Alltel Wireless. AT&T’s recent acquisition of Leap, which includes prepaid Cricket customers, boosted the company’s mobile market share to 34 percent, the same as Verizon. Sprint came in third place with 16 percent of the market share and T-Mobile came in fourth with 14 percent.
The mobile market as a whole is continuing to grow and is as competitive as ever. Verizon and AT&T may gain a third, closer competitor as Sprint (NYSE:S), an American subsidiary of Japanese mobile company Softbank, is looking to buy T-Mobile, the American subsidiary of the German Deutsche Telekom. This would make Sprint competitive with the top two carriers by giving it a 30 percent market share, making it almost as large as Verizon and AT&T. Softbank is currently trying to gain approval from the Federal Communications Commission to go forward with the merger reported Forbes.
As the mobile phone — including the smartphone market — continues to grow, these companies are reaping the benefits of a growing audience. The vast majority of Americans own a mobile phone. Adaption rates hover around 90 percent — for smartphone owners, it’s about 50 percent. Wireless carriers make this growth possible by providing networks on which phones and tablets operate. Users frequently pay for service and data for their devices to these companies either by being billed monthly as part of a contract or on a prepaid plan. Both generally make some allowance for data.
Due to the increase in devices and other factors, wireless carriers continue to grow. Sharma’s research notes that it grew four percent from last quarter and 23 percent from the same quarter last year. This growth means that despite the economy, people are continuing to buy phones and devices. A report from the IDC indicates that smartphones grew across the iOS, Android, and Windows platforms, showing that smartphones are still a growing market seven years after the introduction of the iPhone. Tablets are expected to grow too, but larger smartphones that many refer to as phablets may bite into tablet sales.
Even so, this increase in devices means a larger wireless customer base for AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint to compete for in the market. While Verizon now shares the lead with AT&T, either may get ahead of its rival in the near future. Or Sprint may one day outgrow them both.