NEW YORK (AP) — AT&T's wireless business had a strong first quarter as the company added more than 1 million subscribers and benefited from an installment plan that permits frequent phone upgrades.
Although customers in the installment plan, called Next, aren't locked into traditional two-year service contracts, they pay the entire cost of phones in installments. As a result, AT&T doesn't have to pay hundreds of dollars per customer in subsidies. In return, customers can get a new phone as often as every year instead of every other year.
The company's first-quarter net income was $3.7 billion, or 70 cents per share, compared with $3.7 billion, or 67 cents, a year earlier, when AT&T had more shares outstanding. Adjusting for one-time items, including costs related to its March acquisition of Leap Wireless, income was 71 cents per share, compared with 64 cents in the same period last year. Analysts expected 70 cents.
Revenue grew 4 percent to $32.5 billion, better than the $32.4 billion analysts expected, according to FactSet.
Nonetheless, AT&T's stock fell 2.2 percent to $35.50 in after-hours trading after the release of results.
AT&T added 1,062,000 wireless subscribers in the quarter. That includes 625,000 smartphones and tablets in "post-paid" plans. These are the high-value customers on contracts or long-term installment plans. Wireless service revenue grew 2 percent to $15.4 billion. Total wireless revenue, including phones and tablets sales, grew 7 percent to $17.9 billion.
The U.S. wireless industry is undergoing a transformation as wireless carriers try to wean customers off subsidies. Subsidies had helped attract customers as the wireless industry grew, but most Americans now have cellphones.