T-Mobile USA's subscribers were more likely to stick with the company in the last three months, a welcome trend for a carrier that's struggling against larger competitors.
T-Mobile, the U.S. arm of Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG, on Thursday said it gained a net 3,000 customers under its own brand in the first quarter. It was the first report of a quarterly gain in years. In the same quarter last year, it lost a net 261,000 branded subscribers.
It ended the quarter with 26.1 million customers under its own brand, and another 7.8 million on wholesale access deals.
Customers may have been more likely to stick with T-Mobile because they knew it is getting the iPhone soon, analyst Kevin Smithen at Macquarie Securities said. T-Mobile starts selling the iPhone on April 12.
Deutsche Telekom's stock rose 2 percent in Frankfurt trading Thursday.
As has been the case for years, T-Mobile lost subscribers from contract-based plans, which are the most lucrative. However, the loss of 199,000 subscribers was smaller than usual, and beat Smithen's estimate of a loss of 500,000. T-Mobile was also helped by a slack season at the three bigger carriers — Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint Nextel — in the absence of a new blockbuster phone release from Apple or Samsung, Smithen said.
The news comes as T-Mobile is trying to buy MetroPCS Communications Inc., the fifth-largest carrier. That deal is awaiting approval from MetroPCS shareholders, some of whom have voiced opposition. The improving trends at T-Mobile are good news for MetroPCS shareholders, since their share of the combined company could be worth more, Smithen noted.
Shares of Dallas-based MetroPCS rose 20 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $11.15 in late trading.