The recent announcement of T-Mobile and Sprint’s merger has everyone thinking a little more than usual about wireless competition. The US has enjoyed a fierce battle between carriers for the last five years, which has seen prices plummet and new features like unlimited plans made widely (and cheaply) accessible.
But according to a handful of wireless analyst reports seen by Fierce Wireless, it’s time for carriers and not consumers to reap the rewards for a change. Analysts note that pricing has “stabilized,” fees are going up in some cases, and competition is down — all good news for investors, but bad news for the customers whose higher bills are fueling those extra profits.
“This will mark the first full quarter the industry laps the ‘unlimited’ price wars of 2017, and several positive data points have sweetened the narrative for US Wireless in recent periods,” Deutsche Bank Research analysts told investors in a note. “From a high level, pricing has stabilized (we have actually seen several fee increases in recent months), competitive intensity has moderated (churn is near all-time lows for VZ/T/TMUS), and the industry’s two biggest disruptors (TMUS/S) have announced plans to merge. In addition, Cable MVNO pricing has not been overly aggressive.”
Both Deutsche Bank and Jefferies analysts see an improvement in margins in the coming set of financial results — margins being the difference between what a carrier charges for things and what it costs them — and without any significant reduction in costs, those margin improvements will inevitably be driven by fewer device promotions and higher costs for plans.
It has been a notably long time since T-Mobile hosted a major “Uncarrier” event, which in the past have been the spark for competition between the carriers. Previous Uncarrier events included the debut of unlimited data plans, or offers for free Netflix, features that other carriers have mostly been forced to match.