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Verizon takes a loss, but grows customer base, solidifying its #1 spot

Maybe Sprint Nextel Corp.'s (Sbold iPhone gamble wasn't such a bad idea after all.  At a time when many predicted Apple, Inc. (AAPL) to be fading in the smartphone race after getting outsold by Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KS:005930) slick Android handsets, Apple surged back with the launch of the iPhone 4S and its iconic voice-controlled assistant, Siri.  Analyst numbers place Apple in a near dead heat with Android in December U.S. smartphone sales.

And the situation is looking even better for Apple based on the just-announced earnings of Verizon Wireless, the joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc. (LON:VOD).  

For Verizon Wireless it was a lukewarm quarter as a pension charge and another one-time expense brought a net loss of $2.02B USD ($0.71 USD/share), versus the $1.48B USD profit ($0.52 USD/share) it would have recorded without these charges.  The company did solidify its American lead, adding 1.2 million new contract subscribers (and 1.46m total new subscribers) bringing its total (contract and non-contract) customers to 108.7m and its contract customer base to 87.4m.

Smartphone sales rose from 39 percent in Q3 2011 to 44 percent in Q4 2011.  And the iPhone was king at Verizon.  Of the 7.7m smartphones sold by the carrier in Q4 2011, 4.3m (~55%) were iPhones.  Again, take that figure in -- the iPhone outsold all Android phones combined on America's largest carrier.

iPhone Lines Verizon
The iPhone remains a top draw at Verizon. [Image Source: Reuters]

Of course Verizon pays more for iPhones that the initial carrier AT&T, Inc. (T) did.  And Sprint is reportedly paying even more -- so maybe it isn't such a good deal, after all.

It's certainly a good deal for Apple, though, who reportedly pulled in almost $600 USD per Verizon iPhone sold, on models that retail for $200 USD with contract.  Verizon is doing its best to recoup this capital expenditure, with a slew of overage fees.  Reportedly the average iPhone bill on Verizon was around $100 USD with all the taxes and fees added [source].  Verizon likely pockets $80 of this, meaning that it will haul in $1,920 over the duration of a contract.  But it has to deal with the significant costs of network upgrades, power use, land use, employee pay, and more.  

Some analysts are convinced that a net profit on an iPhone may be a fatalistic quixotic fantasy.  Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett says Verizon is following in the line of AT&T in deluding itself that it will someday see a profit, but consistently failing to do so.  He writes, "The earnings pop will always be a year away."

Still, if America's third and fourth largest carriers -- Sprint and Deutsche Telekom AG's (ETR:DTE) T-Mobile USA -- collapse under their respective debt, Verizon and AT&T could soon be able to significantly unilaterally increase contract rates, solving both companies' iPhone profitability dilemma.

T-Mobile iPhone
The collapse of T-Mobile and Sprint -- a possible scenario -- may hold the key to AT&T and Verizon finally profiting off of their expensive iPhone commitments. [Source: T-Mobile]

Apple is also extremely well positioned under such a scenario, given that it's the top selling model at Verizon and likely near the top at AT&T, as well.  The first major test for Apple, though, will be how it responds to the inevitable need to reinvent iOS.  On the one hand it can't sit still as Google Inc. (GOOG) unveils its slick latest Android build, Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich".  On the other hand, Apple must tread the fine line of avoiding alienating its largely non-technophile customer base with too gaudy an interface.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" [Image Source: Google]

For now, though, Apple and its fans can simply savor the thrill of being back near the top of the U.S. smartphone market -- even if challenges await.

Source: Verizon Wireless

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Wake up Geeks
By bull2760 on 1/25/2012 10:26:34 AM , Rating: 2
Reading these threads it's like a broken record the Apple fans praise Apple and the Android fans rip Apple nothing new here. What you don't realize, for the sake of argument, is that Apple could give a rats ass about geeks like you that want to jail brake their phone, have bigger screens, a cool ui and so forth. You make up such a small percentage of the market as a whole nobody cares. Apples products have always been and will always be simple in function, cause users just want their shit to work I've had both Android and IOS devices, currently I have an iPhone 4, I use it for email and taking pictures, and an occasional social update. What the fuck more do you need? It's a frigin phone, quit trying to replace your home computer, xbox, or playstation with an all in one device, ain't going to happen. Just amazing how geeks think they know it all and everyone else is a dumb ass. Oh and the reason I switched to Apple my phone kept locking up for no apparent reason and I got tired of it.

RE: Wake up Geeks
By zlandar on 1/25/2012 10:55:18 AM , Rating: 2
Ditto. I'm comfortable building my own PC rigs so I'm not a total tech nub. I've owned Windows Mobile phones in the past and they are utter POS when it comes to ergonomics and battery life.

Yeah the Androids are much better than my POS Windows phones in the past but they suffer from the same problem of a bazillion products, all with different pros/cons. Non-tech folks can't tell the difference between a low and high-end Android phone and just buy whatever looks good.

I opted for the iPhone 4 and have no regrets. Most of my co-workers who had Android phones have switched to the iPhone because of crap battery life or they simply don't know how to use all the features on their phone.

RE: Wake up Geeks
By x10Unit1 on 1/25/2012 3:33:22 PM , Rating: 2 are all over the place with this comment. Let's break it down:

Fan boys will be fan boys. I get that, you get that, and most everyone else gets that.

I believe Apple does care if you jailbreak their phones. This is based on Firmware updates stopping jailbreaking and comments Apple has made. Apple does care about geeks. Why do you think they have their Apple Genius tech guys/gals?

Enough with this "it just works" BS. Apple, Android, any other OS have their fair share of problems. Check variou support forums for more details. Honestly, amazed at market skills Apple has though. I wonder if it is or will be studied in marketing classes.

Funny you mention that Apple is simple in function. I have non tech users that use Android phones just fine. I guess it depends on the user?

This is my favorite part of your post:
"currently I have an iPhone 4, I use it for email and taking pictures, and an occasional social update. What the f### more do you need? It's a frigin phone, quit trying to replace your home computer, xbox, or playstation with an all in one device, ain't going to happen"

You are aware that there was a time when a phone was just that....a phone? Now a phone can do a lot more that just call someone. They do what you listed and more. In fact, why can't a smartphone(iOS, Android, or other) replace a PC or console? If all you are using a PC for is media consumption(web browsing, listening to music, viewing pictures and movies), a smartphone can do that. While there are still some issues, it is improving with every OS/application update. Did you know that android phones can play GTA 3? Wasn't that a PS2(console) game? Tell me why it ain't happening?

I am amazed at all of the zealot fan boys out there that blindly believe their device of choice is perfect and everything else sucks. That they looks for any reason to praise their device and curse all others.

Sorry that your phone locked up all of the time. Technology can be a pain in the rump like that no matter what the device. I have seen my fair share of "X product has never worked for me, so I switched to Y and never ever had an issues."

RE: Wake up Geeks
By zlandar on 1/25/2012 3:47:01 PM , Rating: 2
Most people are not looking to replace all their electronic equipment with a smartphone. The problem of trying is you end up with a big fat power-hungry smartphone that runs out of juice.

RE: Wake up Geeks
By x10Unit1 on 1/25/2012 4:31:13 PM , Rating: 2
Zlandar - Very true.

I wasn't clear on the point I was trying to make. Let me try again.

The poster says that he uses a smartphone to emails, takes pictures, and updates social networks. Then goes to claim "it's a frigin phone" and you shouldn't look to a phone to replace a PC or console because it ain't going to happen.

The point I was trying to make is: smartsphones are not phones. They are little computers that make calls. This might show my age but my phone right now has more processing power than the PC I used in high school and has a better internet connection! My mother and sister uses their phones to play a variety of games. In their case, the phone would replace a dedicated video game machine. I have a friend that uses the Droid Bionics webtop software and a hdmi connector to hook up the phone to his TV and uses that to browse the internet and use netflix when 4G wants to works. In that case, it replaces a home PC for him.

Maybe it was because the poster drew a line in the sand that said a phone can never replace certain things without realizing that in certain ways, it has. Just a side note, just how many people replaced their tomtoms or other GPS devices with their new smartphone?

It might not be that a smartphone can replace a PC or console but the practically of it. If he would have made that point, I would have agreed. But to say that it can't just doesn't make sense.

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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