AT&T managed to lower the subscriber gap separating it from Verizon in the fourth quarter of 2017, data compiled by Strategy Analytics reveals. While all four national carriers generated growth in the three-month period ending December 31, AT&T was by far the fastest-growing operator with over 2.7 million new subscribers, even though the majority of its net additions came from new prepaid customers who are generally considered to be less valuable than their postpaid peers due to their stronger tendency to switch networks and spend less. Whereas Verizon had a lead of over ten million subscribers in Q3 2017, that gap has now been reduced to 8.89 million. The churn rates of both telecom giants marginally increased in the final three months of the last year but are still below 1.5-percent, i.e. much lower than those of T-Mobile and Sprint.
While AT&T's performance hence suggests it may be able to challenge Verizon in the near future, the gap between the two smaller national carriers is getting larger at a rising pace. T-Mobile and Sprint spent the better part of 2017 negotiating a potential merger but ended up dropping the talks after their parent companies both refused to cede control of the combined entity they were trying to create. The network operators are now actively involved in a 5G race that's expected to heat up come late 2018, with all four already pledging to offer nationwide next-generation coverage by 2020.