It looks like Sprint’s strategic decision to focus on the iPhone has finally allowed Verizon Wireless to sell more 4G phones than Sprint, according to financial numbers released Tuesday. According to Verizon the company sold 1.6 million 4G LTE smartphones during the quarter, as well as another 700,000 4G devices like USB modems and Wi-Fi hotspots. And while Sprint never calls out its 4G numbers its 4G partner Clearwire today pre-announced some Q4 metrics including 900,000 new 4G wholesale activations, which you can pretty much translate into being mostly Sprint 4G smartphones and a small number of other devices, like hotspots and USBs.
(Editor’s note: You won’t find the 4G LTE device breakout numbers in the Verizon press release; the numbers were discussed during the conference call, and a quote with the figures was provided to us by Verizon.)
What’s the 30-second analysis on all this? Sidecut Reports sticks by the premise of our latest report, the 4G LTE Market Report for January, 2012, in which we conclude that 4G LTE phone sales for all providers, including Verizon, are going to stay essentially flat until we see an LTE-capable Apple iPhone hit the market. As proof of the iPhone’s continuing popularity look no farther than Verizon’s Q4 numbers: 4.3 million iPhone activations vs. 1.6 million 4G LTE phone activations. Almost a 3-to-1 preference for the 3G iPhone vs. any 4G LTE choice.
And while Verizon’s 4G LTE phone activation numbers might look nice at first glance, remember that the company was in full 4G LTE promotion mode from November on, offering double-data packages to new customers as well as deeply discounted prices on handsets. And Sprint had largely conceded the 4G race back in October when it announced it would de-emphasize its 4G WiMAX phones in favor of the 3G iPhone. The result? Verizon finally beat Sprint for a 3-month sales period, though by our unofficial ongoing tally Sprint won the 4G smartphone market title for 2011 by almost a million and a half, with 6.1 million activations to Verizon’s 4.7 million total.
And Sprint’s 4G lead may remain for some time to come, since Sprint and Clearwire had activated something like 3.3 million other 4G devices throughout 2010, before Verizon launched its LTE network. Again, these numbers are somewhat fuzzy because Sprint has consistently failed to break out 4G numbers during any of its financial calls. That’s too bad for market watchers and investors, because it will be interesting to see what happens to Sprint’s churn this spring when a lot of those initial 4G phone contracts start coming up for a 2-year renewal. Ahead for 4G market watchers is AT&T’s conference call Thursday and Sprint’s call on Feb. 8.