Monday, May 7, 2012

A Shift in the Balance of Power Between Wireless Carriers and Subscribers

            Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that wireless carriers have begun to reduce the subsidies they offer wireless subscribers.  See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304020104577384562576617618.html.
This maneuver occurs at the very same time as carriers have raised their data plan rates resulting in an increase in the major financial metric used by the industry: Average Revenue per User.

            A fair minded person, putting the pieces together, would conclude that the industry is becoming less competitive and acts in parallel, i.e., carriers collectively engage in the same conduct as to the major terms, conditions and prices for service.   Bear in mind that no carrier has announced a reduction in service rates as a result of reduced subsidy burdens.  No carrier has to do so, including languishing Sprint and T-Mobile.

            The ubiquitous excuse for all things bad in the wireless industry—spectrum scarcity—has nothing to do with the extent carriers have to offer handset subsidies.  Moreover if one considers the wireless marketplace as nearing maturity in terms of market penetration, shouldn’t carriers have to sharpen their pencil to offer better deals and a more compelling value proposition for laggards?  Apparently not.

            The leading buy side telecom financial analyst, Craig Moffett of Berstein Research predicts “a more disciplined and more profitable future” for carriers, no doubt at the expense of consumer surplus.

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