AT&T Says It Continued to Grow Despite Giving Promotions the Boot

A second carrier warns that there will be fewer wireless deals in the future.

David Lumb Mobile Reporter
David Lumb is a mobile reporter covering how on-the-go gadgets like phones, tablets and smartwatches change our lives. Over the last decade, he's reviewed phones for TechRadar as well as covered tech, gaming, and culture for Engadget, Popular Mechanics, NBC Asian America, Increment, Fast Company and others. As a true Californian, he lives for coffee, beaches and burritos.
Expertise Smartphones | Smartwatches | Tablets | Telecom industry | Mobile semiconductors | Mobile gaming
David Lumb
3 min read
AT&T logo atop a building in San Francisco
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AT&T ended the year with more phone and internet subscribers, according to results from the last fiscal quarter.

The Dallas telecom company reported its earnings on Wednesday, noting 656,000 postpaid net phone additions in the fourth quarter, a metric used by the industry as shorthand for success and dependable revenue. AT&T said it gained customers even though it offered the least generous phone promotions and deals among its competitors, which the company will continue.

"We proved in the fourth quarter that our strategy is working and we're gonna continue to execute that," AT&T COO Jeff McElfresh told CNET.

Despite inflation and worries surrounding a recession, AT&T CEO John Stankey was cautiously optimistic about the company's forecast for the year. 

"The good news is, I think we're through the worst of it," Stankey said on a conference call, though he noted that geopolitical disruption could be a swing factor changing the carrier's 2023 outlook.

The results come at a time when wireless carriers are tightening their belts through layoffs and pulling back on the kind of promotions and freebies they once offered to lure in new customers. On Tuesday, Verizon also said it was moving away from aggressive promotions even if meant short-term losses. Consumers can expect to see fewer wireless deals going forward. 

AT&T also ended the year by surpassing its goal of covering 130 million people with its midband 5G, with the telecom company hitting the 150 million mark. Midband spectrum runs on a frequency of 5G that brings wider coverage and higher speeds to more places. The spectrum was mostly in its C-band frequency range, which AT&T paid $27 billion to acquire in 2021 and started rolling out last year. AT&T wasn't clear about whether this number includes the 3.45 GHz frequencies of 5G midband that the carrier paid $9.1 billion to acquire a year ago. The carrier set a new target to cover 200 million people with midband 5G by the end of 2023.

AT&T lost 13,000 net prepaid phone subscribers in the last quarter, including customers for AT&T's Cricket brand that rivals T-Mobile's Metro and Verizon's new Total affordable prepaid offerings. 

The carrier posted 280,000 broadband fiber net additions, noting that its fiber customers now outnumber customers with older DSL and other internet services. AT&T touched on its Gigapower fiber joint venture with private equity company BlackRock Alternatives, announced just before the end of 2022, which Stankey likened to an opportunity in the early race for wireless phone service. The venture aims to harness government subsidies to deploy multi-gig fiber in new areas to reach 1.5 million customers.

"The possibility to help close the digital divide and focus on access to affordable high-speed internet is a top priority of AT&T," Stankey said.

The carrier acknowledged that it will have a new offering this year for fixed wireless, an internet frontier that AT&T effectively ceded to Verizon and T-Mobile in the early days of 5G. In the past, AT&T has confirmed it won't expand into fixed wireless except on rare occasions to meet specific business needs. So long as fixed wireless delivers less bandwidth than fiber, AT&T isn't excited about it as an alternative to wired broadband, Stankey said, noting any deployment would have a narrow niche where fiber can't easily reach.

"I don't see [fixed wireless] place long-term in dense metropolitan areas, and I don't see it in reasonably well-populated suburban areas," Stankey said.

AT&T reported revenues of $31.3 billion, which is around the revenue for the same period last year and slightly under the $31.39 billion expected. The carrier reported 61 cents of adjusted earnings per share, which was better than the 57 cents earned per share expected by analysts polled by Yahoo Finance.

At the start of the new year, AT&T expects wireless revenue growth of 4% and broadband revenue growth of 5% through 2023. The carrier noted it expects to spend around the same for capital expenditures this year, which hit a record $24 billion in 2022 due to expanding midband 5G and fiber rollouts.

AT&T's stock was up a tenth of a percent to $19.18 in after-hours trading.