The AT&T paradox: why the biggest subscriber 'donor' is happy to see them go to T-Mobile, Sprint or Verizon

Given that AT&T operates with very high earnings margins, we wouldn't shed much tears over the latest analyst revelations about its negative subscriber churn, as it is a part of a consciously pursued strategy that is proving to be rather brilliant, it seems. According to data from Cowen and Company Equity Research, AT&T is the largest subscriber "donor" to other carriers in the last eight quarters:

The last sentence here is key, as it seems that AT&T isn't too worried about losing low-margin subs with feature phones, and is doing basically nothing to stem the tide. It hasn't offer any promo blitz, incentive or family plan discounts worth noting for a while now. Heck, it was even the only major carrier that barely did a thing to take part in the Black Friday and Christmas promo fight that ensued among T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon. Another example - until recently, its Galaxy S7 edge price for buying outright was $799, compared with, say $780 on T-Mobile, and now it is tied with Sprint at $795 for the most expensive S7 edge among the big four carriers, which raises the average selling price (ASP) of its phone roster.

AT&T, however, focused heavily on expansion in digital media and advertising with the DirecTV Now launch, and the move to acquire Time Warner, keeping an eye on the future, with the idea to prevent becoming a dumb pipe for bits, bytes and voices. All in all, AT&T's refocusing on high-value customers seems to be paying off, as during the third quarter it reported gross margin of more than 50% for its wireless service, and its plan ASP is the highest in the industry, so the carrier may be the biggest subscriber donor, but at the same time is apparently glad to see those lightweight users go to the competition.

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