AT&T Inc. added fewer contract-signing wireless customers in the first quarter than it has in several years, an indication that the saturation of the market is even starting to catch up with the carrier of the iPhone.
The country's largest telecommunications provider said Wednesday that it added a net 512,000 wireless customers under contracts, down 43 percent from a year ago.
Exclude the iPhone, and the figure would have been negative: Dallas-based AT&T activated about 900,000 iPhones for new customers. Another 1.8 million people who were already AT&T customers also got iPhones.
Analysts had expected AT&T to add roughly 600,000 contract-signing customers.
Customers under contract pay a lot more than those who "prepay" for service, or buy service through a wholesaler like Tracfone.
The low number of new contract customers actually helped AT&T's results in the short term, because it didn't have to sell as many subsidized phones.
AT&T earned $2.48 billion, or 42 cents per share, in the first three months of the year. That was down 21 percent from a year ago. But excluding items, AT&T earned 59 cents per share, beating the average forecast of 54 cents per share by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters. The items included a previously announced charge of $995 million, or 17 cents per share, to reflect a change in the health care reform package regarding the tax treatment of benefits.
Revenue was $30.6 billion, flat with a year ago and slightly below analyst expectations for $30.7 billion.
In premarket trading, AT&T shares were up 4 cents at $26.70.