March 1 2010|04.16 PM UTC

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Q4 2009 Earnings Report: Wireless Carriers Reap Profits from Data Revenues

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The four major U.S. wireless carriers have posted their fiscal year 2009 earnings, and data revenues seem to be keeping all of them in business. To see just how service providers profit from your elected data plan charges, read on for the real figures.

AT&T Inc. (T) reported fourth quarter 2009 net income of $3 billion, or earnings per share of $0.51, on sales of $30.9 billion. This compares to a net income of $2.4 billion, or earnings per share of $0.41, on sales of $31.1 billion in the same period a year ago. This met analysts’ expectations of $0.51 per share, according to a FactSet Research poll reported by Martketwatch.com.

The sustained revenues of the company are due in part to gains in wireless subscribers. In the fourth quarter 2009, the company posted a net gain in total subscribers of 2.7 million and a gain of 7.3 million for the entire fiscal year.

Wireless data revenues totaled $3.9 billion, an increase of 26.3 percent compared to the year-earlier quarter. Total text messages carried on the AT&T network increased 70 percent and multimedia messages nearly doubled in the fourth quarter 2009, when compared to the same period a year ago.

Sprint Nextel Corporation (S) reported a quarter four 2009 revenue of $7.87 billion, down from $8.43 billion in the same period a year ago. The company lost 34 cents per share, compared to a 54 cent per share loss in the year-earlier quarter.

Sprint posted a loss of 69,000 net retail subscribers in this quarter, serving only 48.1 million customers compared to 48.3 in the same period the year-earlier. With fewer post-paid customers, the company’s wireless service revenues declined by 5% year-over-year to $6.2 billion.

In morning trading following the news, the company’s shares were down 17 cents to $3.48

Verizon Communications (VZ) reported fourth quarter 2009 earnings per share of $0.54, on sales of $27.1 billion. That compares with earnings per share of $0.61, on sales of $24.6 billion in the same period a year ago. The company’s earnings missed analyst expectations of 55 cents per share on revenue of $27.32 billion, according to a FactSet Research poll reported by MarketWatch.

Data revenue totaled $16.04 billion for the fiscal year 2009. The fourth quarter alone data revenues accounted for 31.9 percent of all service revenues. The growth in data revenue for this quarter saw an increase of 26.5 percent from the same period a year ago. All 3G phones on this wireless carrier are now required to have a data plan.

In the end of the fiscal year 2009, retail customers represented 96% of the company’s base. Verizon Wireless saw a net customer addition of 2.2 million, excluding acquisitions and mergers, in the fourth quarter 2009 alone. This customer base ranks the wireless carrier as the largest wireless provider in the nation.

Shares of the company fell 68 cents to $30 in morning trade following the news.

T-Mobile USA Inc. reported a net income for the fourth quarter of 2009 of $306 million, compared to $483 million in the year-earlier quarter. Total revenues for this quarter were $5.41 billion, down from $5.72 billion in the fourth quarter 2008. Parent company, Deutsche Telekom AG (DT) is still considering the initial public offering (IPO) of T-Mobile USA Inc.

Deutsche Telekom reported that for its U.S. subsidiary, data revenue totaled 22 percent of total revenue at $10.20 per customer in the fourth quarter 2009. This is up from 19 percent in the year-earlier quarter. Total data revenue for this quarter was $1.03 billion.

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