SEPTEMBER 30, 2012
Item 2. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations - Continued
Dollars in millions except per share amounts
Our handset offerings include at least 16 smartphones (handsets with voice and data capabilities using an advanced operating system to better manage data and Internet access) from nine manufacturers. As technology evolves, rapid changes are occurring in the handset and device industry with the continual introduction of new models (e.g., various Android, Apple, Windows and other smartphones) or significant revisions of existing models. We believe a broad offering of a wide variety of smartphones reduces dependence on any single operating system or manufacturer as these products continue to evolve in terms of technology and subscriber appeal. In the first nine months of 2012, we continued to see increasing use of smartphones by our postpaid subscribers. Of our total postpaid subscriber base, 63.8% (or 44.5 million subscribers) use smartphones, up from 52.6% (or 36.1 million subscribers) a year earlier. As is common in the industry, most of our subscribers’ phones are designed to work only with our wireless technology, requiring subscribers who desire to move to a new carrier with a different technology to purchase a new device. From time to time, we offer and have offered attractive handsets on an exclusive basis. As these exclusivity arrangements expire, we expect to continue to offer such handsets (based on historical industry practice), and we believe our service plan offerings will help to retain our subscribers by providing incentives not to migrate to a different carrier. We do not expect exclusivity terminations to have a material impact on our Wireless segment income, consolidated operating margin or our cash flows from operations.
Our postpaid subscribers typically sign a two-year contract, which includes discounted handsets and early termination fees. About 89% of our postpaid smartphone subscribers are on FamilyTalk® Plans (family plans), Mobile Share plans or business discount plans (discount plans), which provide for service on multiple devices at discounted rates, and such subscribers tend to have higher retention and lower churn rates. During the first quarter of 2011, we introduced our Mobile to Any Mobile feature, which enables our new and existing subscribers with qualifying messaging plans to make unlimited mobile calls to any mobile number in the United States, subject to certain conditions. We also offer data plans at different price levels (usage-based data plans) to attract a wide variety of subscribers and to differentiate us from our competitors. Our postpaid subscribers on data plans increased 10.8% year over year. A growing percentage of our postpaid smartphone subscribers are on usage-based data plans, with 63.9% (or 28.5 million subscribers) on these plans as of September 30, 2012, up from 49.8% (or 18.0 million subscribers) as of September 30, 2011. Such offerings are intended to encourage existing subscribers to upgrade their current services and/or add connected devices, attract subscribers from other providers, and minimize subscriber churn. In late August 2012, we launched new Mobile Share data plans (which allow postpaid subscribers to share data at discounted prices among devices covered by their plan), and early sales results have been positive.
As of September 30, 2012, more than 40% of our postpaid smartphone subscribers use a 4G-capable device (i.e., a device that would operate on our HSPA+ or Long Term Evolution (LTE) network). Due to substantial increases in the demand for wireless service in the United States, AT&T is facing significant spectrum and capacity constraints on its wireless network in certain markets. We expect such constraints to increase and expand to additional markets in the coming years. While we are continuing to invest significant capital in expanding our network capacity, our capacity constraints could affect the quality of existing voice and data services and our ability to launch new, advanced wireless broadband services, unless we are able to obtain more spectrum. Any long-term spectrum solution will require that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) make new or existing spectrum available to the wireless industry to meet the needs of our subscribers. We will continue to attempt to address spectrum and capacity constraints on a market-by-market basis.
Also as part of our efforts to improve our network performance and help address the need for additional spectrum capacity, we intend to redeploy spectrum currently used for basic 2G services to support more advanced mobile Internet services on our 3G and 4G networks. We will manage this process consistent with previous network upgrades and will transition customers on a market-by-market basis from our Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) networks (referred to as 2G networks) to our more advanced 3G and 4G networks. We expect to fully discontinue service on our 2G networks by approximately January 1, 2017. As of September 30, 2012, about 10% of AT&T’s postpaid subscribers were using 2G-capable handsets. We do not expect this transition to have a material impact on our operating results, but will continue to evaluate the financial impact of transitioning customers from 2G devices to 3G or 4G devices.