Verizon isn't done with 4G yet as it grows subscribers

5G may be the next generation of wireless, but Verizon still sees opportunity in 4G.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

Verizon reports strong growth in wireless for the third quarter of 2019.

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Wireless is where it's at for Verizon . Just look at its most recent quarterly results. The company continues to rack up new wireless customers as it goes city by city to roll out 5G . But all this growth is coming from its traditional 4G LTE service, the tried-and-true service Verizon's still working to promote. 

Meanwhile, the company sees its traditional video business slumping as more and more customers cut the cord for online services. 

In the third quarter, Verizon added a total of 615,000 postpaid customers, those valuable customers who pay at the end of the month and tend to spend more money on service. It also added 444,000 prepaid subscribers. 

But while Verizon toted up those wireless additions, it lost customers on its traditional wireline service. The company said that it added 30,000 new customers for its Fios Internet business, but it lost 67,000 video customers, as customers cut the cord and moved to streaming online video services. 

In total, Verizon reported third-quarter revenue of $32.9 billion versus the $32.7 billion expected by analysts, according to Yahoo Finance. The company's revenue for wireless came in at $23.6 billion, a 3% increase from the same quarter a year ago. This was just shy of analyst estimates of $23.33 billion. Wireline revenue came in at $7.1 billion, a 4% decline from a year earlier. 

All of this comes as Verizon plugs away at a major network overhaul in its move to 5G. This next-generation cellular technology will offer a massive speed boost and a smarter, more responsive network that can connect thousands of different devices around us. But the transformation is taking time. In the meantime, Verizon is hitting the gas on adding new customers to its traditional 4G network. 

Watch this: 5G made simple

In August, the company announced promotions to push its mix-and-match unlimited data plans, offering customers a price cut of $5 from existing unlimited data offers. The effort was meant to get more customers signed up for unlimited data and to drive them toward 5G in the future, Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon, said on a conference call Friday. 

"This provides a pathway to come into unlimited and to move up when 5G becomes available," he said on the call with analysts and investors. "We see opportunity in 4G as well. We can execute on that as well and use our strength." 

Meanwhile, the video market is also in a massive shift as consumers dump traditional paid TV services from cable and telecom companies for online services from companies like Netflix and Amazon. And as media brands, like Disney, launch their own streaming services, it puts even more pressure on companies like Verizon that are trying to sell packages of old-school TV channels. 

Verizon is making this shift, too, as it looks to these streaming services to help boost its wireless services. On Thursday the company announced it is giving customers of its unlimited wireless plan 12 months of Disney Plus for free starting Nov. 12, the launch date for the streaming service. After the promotional period, the subscription for the new streaming service will jump to $6.99. 

Vestberg said that the partnership with Disney is another way to drive growth in wireless subscriptions. 

"We have a great network and distribution," Vestberg said, adding that those factors make Verizon a good partner for a popular content provider like Disney. Verizon and Disney each derive benefits from being partners, he said. "Disney Plus is a win-win."

All of this is an attempt to continue to boost mobile subscriber numbers in the face of stiff competition from rivals, such as AT&T and T-Mobile . Meanwhile, Verizon continues to add 5G in more cities. On Friday, it announced it is turning on its 5G service in two more cities, Dallas and Omaha, bringing its 5G network count to 15.

The addition of these two new cities puts Verizon's 5G network ahead over some of its rivals. Sprint has nine 5G cities and T-Mobile has sixAT&T is still in the "lead" at 21 total cities, but unlike with the other three carriers, consumers don't have full access to the network. 

Verizon says it plans to have 5G in over 30 cities by the end of 2019.

Originally published Oct. 26 at 5:21 a.m. PT.
Updated at 6:43 a.m PT: Adds comments from Verizon's investor call.

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