Verizon leapfrogs AT&T for wireless subscriber lead

Carrier also reports 5% earnings growth in Q1 2009

Completing the Alltel acquisition has helped Verizon jump ahead of AT&T to give the carrier the most wireless subscribers in the United States.

Verizon now has more wireless subscribers than any carrier in the United States, as its merger with Alltel has helped the company jump ahead of rival AT&T.  

Verizon said in its earnings report Monday that its total number of wireless customers surged to 86.5 million in the first quarter of 2009, when the carrier added a net 14.5 million wireless customers. Roughly 13.2 million of those customers came over to Verizon as a result of its Alltel acquisition, which the Federal Communications Commission approved last November. The big increase in wireless customers now gives Verizon an edge of about 8.3 million wireless subscribers over AT&T, which reported last week that it has 78.2 million wireless customers.

In addition to its large customer gains, Verizon reported a solid net income of $3.2 billion in the first quarter of 2009, a 5.3% increase over the $3 billion net income it reported in the first quarter of 2008. The company's operating revenues totaled $26.6 billion for the quarter, an 11.6% increase from the $23.8 billion in operating revenues that it reported in the first quarter of 2008.The company's wireless segment delivered its strongest financial results, as its pre-tax operating income totaled $4.2 billion, an increase of 31.2% from the $3.3 billion pre-tax operating income it reported in the first quarter of 2008. The only negative aspect of the company's wireless segment was that its churn rate -- or the rate at which its customers cancel their service --  jumped from 1.19% in the first quarter of 2008 to 1.46% in the first quarter of 2009.

The carrier's wireline segment did not perform nearly as well, as its pre-tax operating income of $691 million represented a steep 33.6% decline from the $1 billion pre-tax operating income it produced in the first quarter of 2008. But although its wireline business continued to decline in the quarter, the company can take solace that its total number of broadband connections grew by 7.8% to 8.9 million, while the total number of subscribers to its FiOS Internet (2.8 million) and television (2.2 million) grew at impressive rates of 55.5% and 83.8%, respectively.

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