Cingular Surges on Subscriber Rush

Cingular Wireless , the nation’s largest carrier, is the largest for a reason. The company reported that it ended 2006 with 61 million subscribers and a net income
of $782 million, a 283 percent surge over 2005.

The company also said it picked up 2.4 million new subscribers by the end of the fourth quarter, compared with the 1.8 million from the year-ago period.

The figures were the last for Cingular as a joint
venture between BellSouth and AT&T. When BellSouth and AT&T merged,
Cingular became wholly-owned by the telecom giant. Cingular’s brand then
became part of AT&T.

Cingular CEO Stan Sigman said in a statement the company will continue to
emphasize its network, customer service and handsets under the AT&T banner.

As reported, those same measures appearing to pay
off for Cingular were cited by Sprint as important to its revival.

As Cingular announced a 10 percent jump in revenue over last year’s $8.85
billion, Sprint Nextel’s decision to slash
5,000 jobs still rang in the industry’s ears.

AT&T was not immediately available for comment.

“[Cingular] worked very, very hard,” ABI Research analyst Lance Wilson said. The inclusion of new phones, such as Apple’s
iPhone and RIM’s Pearl,
increased customer service and its ‘Power Up’ advertising are paying off.

In-Stat’s David Chamberlain said departing Sprint subscribers are a
likely source of Cingular’s increased customer base. Problems integrating
the business-minded Nextel caused Sprint’s core users to leave. The carrier lost 300,000 customers in the fourth quarter.

It’s not only Sprint Nextel and Cingular in the carrier earnings race.

Verizon Wireless , the former Cingular’s closest rival, reported revenues of $23.3 billion during the fourth
quarter of 2006, up more than 25 percent over the third quarter of 2005. The
carrier said it added 1.9 million subscribers, giving the company more than
56 million customers.

Whichever carrier is ahead and for what reason has turned a relatively simple horse race into a game of three-dimensional chess where the audience must factor in a plethora of features beyond voice, advises Wilson.

AT&T stock rose more than 3 percent to $36.75 on afternoon trading.

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