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Verizon Wireless lost 398,000 retail postpaid phone subscribers in the first six weeks of 2017. That's when the company launched unlimited smartphone data plans and immediately turned things around.
Verizon still ended up losing customers for the quarter ending March 31, the company said in earnings results released today. But a gain of 109,000 retail postpaid phone connections after the launch of unlimited data dropped the overall phone loss to 289,000.
"The launch of Verizon Unlimited positively changed the trajectory of customer additions in the quarter," the company said.
Overall, Verizon has 113.9 million retail wireless connections, with postpaid smartphone plans taking up the bulk of that.
Although Verizon still has the most wireless subscribers in the US, T-Mobile USA has gained millions of customers over the past few years with a strategy of offering better deals than AT&T and Verizon. T-Mobile is largely responsible for the return of unlimited data plans to the US mobile market, as T-Mobile's popular unlimited plan forced Verizon to offer one of its own.
As always, we should clarify that what carriers call "unlimited" does have limits. There are no fees for going over a data cap, but speeds can be throttled during times of network congestion for unlimited customers who use more than a certain amount of data. On Verizon, you can be throttled after you pass 22GB in a month if you happen to be connecting to a congested cell tower. On T-Mobile, the potential throttle point is 30GB. So while you can use "unlimited" amounts of data, the heaviest users get slower speeds at certain times.
Data is only unlimited on the phone itself, as carriers generally place limits on the use of mobile hotspot applications that let laptops and tablets share the phone's Internet connection. T-Mobile was also limiting the quality of streaming video unless customers paid extra but added HD video to its base $70 plan in response to Verizon's unlimited plan. Verizon unlimited plans start at $80 a month for one line.
Verizon's total operating revenues, including wireline services, were $29.8 billion in the first quarter, down 7.3 percent year-over-year. Net income was $3.6 billion, down 19.8 percent year over year.
Verizon FiOS added 35,000 Internet subscribers and lost 13,000 video subscribers in the quarter. "At the end of first-quarter 2017, Verizon had 5.7 million FiOS Internet connections and 4.7 million FiOS Video connections, year-over-year increases of 3.3 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively," Verizon said.
Internet connections on Verizon's older DSL network declined 16.7 percent year over year, dropping to 1.3 million. Verizon has 13.6 million wireline phone connections, including both fiber and copper lines, down 7.8 percent year over year.