Verizon sees Apple Watch-fueled growth amid early '5G launch'

The carrier's also been busy dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
Expertise Mobile, 5G, Big Tech, Social Media Credentials
  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
3 min read
Verizon store in New York

 Verizon had a busy month.

Richard Levine/Getty

Verizon's last few weeks brought dramatic highs and lows. 

After taking preorders last month, Verizon kicked off October with the launch of its Verizon 5G Home broadband-replacement service, which it argues made it the first to the next-generation wireless technology (rivals would debate this point). But over the last two weeks, Verizon has had to deal with another challenge: recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Michael.

Verizon, more than other carriers, suffered outages resulting from cleanup crews cutting the critical fiber lines carrying data. The company on Monday said that wireless services are back up and running, but warned people not to cut those fiber-optic lines. 

The storm put Verizon, which prides itself on network quality and reliability, in a difficult position as it struggled to deal with the outages throughout the Panhandle region of Florida. Amid all this, Verizon on Tuesday posted better-than-expected earnings that showed a jump in customer growth in the third quarter. A bright spot in the results was the increase in the connection of wearable devices. 

Because the 5G service launch and Hurricane Michael both hit in October, their impact wasn't felt in the last quarter, which wrapped up at the end of September.

Watch this: Don't hold your breath for Verizon 5G Home service

Verizon's 5G launch will likely have a negligible effect on its overall numbers for the next few quarters because of the limited scale of the commercial deployment, but that didn't stop the company from touting the moment in its release. There's a global race to get to 5G, and Verizon got there first by using a proprietary variant of the industry-standard 5G, which rivals say shouldn't be counted as 5G. 

"With the beginning of the 5G era in this fourth quarter," Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said in a statement on Tuesday, "we are investing in networks, creating platforms to add value for customers and maintaining a focused, disciplined strategy."

The marker gives the carrier bragging rights about network quality at a time when consumers are starting to question their choice of wireless providers. The company hopes to reinforce its reputation for network quality by jumping to the next generation first. 

AT&T says it plans to launch an industry standards-based mobile 5G service in a dozen markets this year. T-Mobile and Sprint will follow with launches next year.

The Apple Watch connection

For the third quarter, Verizon said it added a net 515,000 retail postpaid customers, or people who pay their bills at the end of the month and generally boast better credit scores. The gains were driven by 295,000 net phone gains and 300,000 wearables, which are most likely connected Apple Watches. 

The success of its smartwatch business led Verizon to look into another wireless accessory in the phone-that's-not-a-phone Palm mobile companion device.  

Verizon added 54,000 Fios internet customers, but lost 63,000 Fios video subscribers. Its Oath media business, consisting of older AOL and Yahoo properties, saw a decline in revenue in the quarter, and Verizon warned that the business wouldn't meet its previous target of $10 billion in revenue by 2020. 

Overall, Verizon posted a third-quarter profit of $5.06 billion, or $1.19 a share, compared with a year-earlier gain of $3.74 billion, or 89 cents a share. Excluding one-time items, it posted earnings of $1.22 a share, or 3 cents above Wall Street's forecast

Revenue rose 2.8 percent to $32.6 billion.

Verizon shares fell 8 cents to $54.90 in premarket trading. 

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