Comscore: AT&T sells twice as many smart phones as any competitor

Matt Hamblen, Computerworld (US)
18 May, 2009
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Twice as many smart phone users have picked AT&T over any other wireless U.S. carrier, owing to the carrier’s array of smart phones, its fast wireless network, and its 20,000 hot spots, according to research AT&T released on Friday.

The popularity of text messaging and mobile data applications, including those for social networking, have led customers in record numbers to upgrade to smart phones and other phones with full QWERTY keyboards, which AT&T calls “integrated devices”. Today, nearly 32 percent of AT&T subscribers who purchase service on a monthly plan use an integrated device, the company said. Overall, AT&T serves 78 million wireless customers.

The research was provided to AT&T by Comscore, an independent market research firm, according to an AT&T spokeswoman in an interview. The carrier plans to use the findings to bolster an advertising campaign it is about to launch, although it did not divulge any of the supporting data provided by Comscore about AT&T or its competitors to make its claims.

While AT&T is the exclusive carrier for Apple’s iPhone in the U.S., the statement today does not include the iPhone among its short list of “iconic devices” on sale. The statement cited only the BlackBerry Bold and the Nokia E71x, which went on sale May 4.

“We couldn’t list all our iconic smart phones,” said the spokeswoman, who declined to say whether the iPhone is AT&T’s leading smart phone seller, although many analysts believe it is, with more than 21 million units sold since mid-2007, mostly in the U.S.

The spokeswoman refused to comment on whether the iPhone omission could have anything to do with rumoured discussions that competitor Verizon Wireless is seeking to also sell the iPhone.

AT&T’s statement briefly mentions the iPhone’s operating system as an example of an open operating system, which is a basic requirement of AT&T’s definition of a smart phone. AT&T defines a smart phone as having a QWERTY keyboard, either a physical one or on a touchscreen, as well as an open operating system. While iPhone’s OS X variant is only used for the iPhone, it is still considered “open” because the iPhone works with any number of applications.

The research that AT&T presented shows that smart phones and quick messaging phones (phones with text and picture messaging, IM and other mobile data applications) have more than doubled in subscribers in the past year, AT&T said.

AT&T noted, without mentioning the iPhone, that it carries smart phones across five different open operating systems, and has nine types of Wi-Fi-capable devices, as well as five touchscreen phones. All the AT&T smart phones are useful globally because they operate on the GSM standard, which is used in nearly 90 percent of the world, the company noted.

One analyst seemed perplexed as to why AT&T would be doing better than Verizon or Sprint in smart phone sales. “AT&T does seem to be focused on the growing smart phone revolution,” said Jeff Kagan, an independent analyst. “They started preparing their network years ago. However, so did their competitors. All competitors are seeing an explosion in demand for smart phones, so why is AT&T so far ahead? It is very interesting.”

Kagan said AT&T is selling smart phones so quickly that it may see that two-thirds of its new sales will be smart phones by the end of 2009.

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