KEY POINTS

  • Competition is upending the wireless industry. Wireless carriers are locked into an aggressive price war that is changing the way the mobile industry operates. T-Mobile has inched up to overtake Sprint in subscribers, while Verizon and AT&T have been forced to largely abandon the two-year contract service model.
  • Wireless carriers are not only battling over pricing, they're also trying to woo consumers through attractive data packages. All four major carriers have new data initiatives aimed at tapping into consumers' increasing appetite for mobile video viewing.
  • Even as competition between carriers keeps intensifying, consumers are actually becoming more loyal to their current carrier. The churn rate at three out of the four major carriers has declined over the past two years.
  • The intensified competition between carriers has lengthened the smartphone replacement cycle and resulted in knock-on effects throughout the mobile industry. This poses a challenge for mobile software developers and handset makers that rely on consumers having the latest phones to run the newest software and wireless technology. 
  • With phone subscriber growth stagnating, carriers are looking to alternative sources of revenue. The nation's largest network providers will turn to connected devices, including connected cars, tablets, and IoT devices, to drive growth. Nonsmartphone connected devices accounted for almost 60% of net wireless subscriber adds in Q3 2015, according to Chetan Sharma. 
  • Going forward, key developments will impact how wireless carriers operate and how the broader mobile industry develops.
    • The upcoming spectrum auction will have major implications for the top four carriers, as smaller carriers seize the opportunity to increase coverage areas and improve service. 
    • The latest ruling on net neutrality, if overturned or amended, could loosen restrictions on data throttling and even potentially affect zero-rated services.
    • There is potential for a merger between a major cable provider and a wireless carrier in 2016. 
    • Infrastructure deployment and new technologies, such as 5G and LTE-U, will shape the future of mobile device usage.

The wireless landscape after T-Mobile's 'Un-Carrier' revolution 

For the past seven years, AT&T and Verizon have dominated the wireless industry while the No. 3 and No. 4 players — T-Mobile and Sprint — have struggled to gain subscribers. Then in 2013, T-Mobile began tweaking its strategy and turning around its business. That year, the company decided to stop offering two-year contracts and allow consumers a more flexible — [...]