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T-Mobile continues to gobble up wireless customers

CEO John Legere, at CES to promote the carrier's unlimited-only data plans, touts another strong quarter of subscriber growth.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere says the carrier has added more than 8 million new customers for the year.

Four years into its turnaround, T-Mobile is celebrating another big year in customer gains.

CEO John Legere on Thursday bragged about the wireless carrier's success at adding new customers and offered a glimpse at subscriber growth results for the fourth quarter and all of 2016. The company held a press conference at CES 2017 in Las Vegas to announce its unlimited-only data plans.

The bottom line? T-Mobile continues to win new wireless phone customers, most likely at the expense of its competitors. For the third year in a row, the company has added more than 8 million total new customers, with more than 2 million customers in the fourth quarter.

Specifically, he noted that T-Mobile added 2.1 million customers in the fourth quarter of 2016. This consisted of 933,000 valuable postpaid customers, or customers who pay their bills at the end of the month. And the company added 541,000 prepaid customers, or customers who pay for service at the beginning of each month. Most of those customers have service under T-Mobile's prepaid brand, MetroPCS.

For the full year, this means T-Mobile has added more than 8.2 million new customers. About 3.3 million of them are postpaid phone customers and 2.5 million are prepaid subscribers.

The numbers are impressive, Legere said, because T-Mobile's larger competitors AT&T and Verizon haven't grown their phone customer base at all. In fact, he said that T-Mobile has been responsible for more than 100 percent of the industry's growth in new phone subscribers over the past four years. And he predicted T-Mobile will continue to add new phone customers, while these larger competitors focus on other aspects of their business.

Indeed, the trends in wireless subscriber growth aren't looking good for AT&T and Verizon. In the third quarter AT&T lost 268,000 postpaid phone customers. Verizon said it lost 36,000 such customers in the third quarter. Sprint, which is ranked fourth in the wireless market in terms of total subscribers, added 347,000 of these valuable phone subscribers in the third quarter.

Both AT&T and Verizon have pursued media companies as they grapple with slowing growth in wireless. While Verizon has acquired AOL and has announced plans to buy Yahoo, AT&T has made bigger bets on DirecTV and now Time Warner.

All of this comes five years after AT&T abandoned its $39 billion plan to buy T-Mobile, and more than four years after Legere took over as CEO and he began his "Un-carrier" marketing campaign. Or, as he calls it, his crusade to change the wireless industry.

"Four years ago we launched the Un-carrier and promised to change the wireless industry for good," he said in a statement announcing the preliminary results. "Consumers are responding."

Using wireless spectrum and cash from AT&T as part of the breakup of their failed merger, Legere and his team have taken T-Mobile from a struggling wireless company that ranked fourth among the major carriers and was losing customers every quarter to the fastest-growing network in the country. It now ranks third in overall subscribers.

Much of this is due to improvements in the network. Legere's team has improved T-Mobile's footprint by extending coverage into suburban markets and building a 4G LTE network that provides network performance to rival its bigger competitors. As a result, Legere says the company has won new customers and created a loyal base.

Now, he says his larger rivals are on the ropes, and T-Mobile is poised to continue its attack.

"We are hunting the bastards down."