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EARNINGS PREVIEW: US Telecom Companies Move To Gain Wireless Customers

By Melodie Warner Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES TAKING THE PULSE: With AT&T Inc. (T) walking away from its $39 billion bid for Deutsche Telekom AG's (DTEGY, DTE.XE) T-Mobile USA, the telecommunications industry is focused on gaining wireless subscribers by offering faster and more-reliable network connections. AT&T, which halted the merger after meeting resistance from both the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission, had said T-Mobile would bolster its network and ease capacity constraints. AT&T bought $1.9 billion in spectrum from Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) and some have said the carrier could buy spectrum from cable provider Dish Network Corp. (DISH). Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless agreed last month to pay nearly $4 billion for wireless-spectrum licenses from the cable-television companies Comcast Corp. (CMCSA, CMCSK), Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC), Cox Communications Inc. and Bright House Networks. COMPANIES TO WATCH: Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) - reports Jan. 24 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of 53 cents a share on $28.39 billion in revenue, compared with 54 cents a share and $26.4 billion, respectively, a year earlier. Key Issues: Verizon's third-quarter profit more than doubled on higher contract-wireless subscribers and improved profit margins. But it has warned that the profit margin for Verizon Wireless, its wireless venture with Vodafone Group PLC (VOD.LN, VOD, VODPF), would drop about five percentage points in the fourth quarter due to record sales of Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone, as carriers typically pay more for the popular smartphone than for other handsets. Verizon said it sold about 4.2 million iPhones during the fourth quarter. AT&T Inc. (T) - reports Jan. 26 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters recently expected a profit of 44 cents a share on $31.95 billion in revenue, compared with 55 cents a share and $31.36 billion, respectively, a year earlier. Key Issues: Increased use of connected devices like Inc.'s (AMZN) Kindle e-reader helped drive AT&T's wireless-subscriptions increase in the third quarter. Bank of America predicts better-than-expected holiday sales will help AT&T add 575,000 contract customers in the fourth quarter, up from 319,000 in the prior quarter, in which there was a slowdown in iPhone activations as people waited for the iPhone 4S release. Earlier this month, AT&T turned on its fourth-generation LTE mobile-broadband service in 11 new markets, including New York and San Francisco. The company now covers 74 million Americans with the faster service, compared with more than 200 million at rival Verizon Wireless. The telecom giant also introduced new pricing plans that will increase the monthly bill for new customers as much as 33%, but allow the use of more data. Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. (MMI) - reports Jan. 26 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of six cents a share on $3.4 billion in revenue, compared with 37 cents a share and $3.43 billion, respectively, a year earlier. Key Issues: The handset maker has said it will be modestly profitable in the fourth quarter excluding one-time items on sales of about $3.4 billion as mobile-device competition increased along with its legal costs. The company is embroiled in several patent suits. An administrative-law judge recently ruled in favor of Motorola on six of seven Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) patents but found Motorola violated one, while a ruling earlier this month from the U.S. International Trade Commission denied patent-infringement allegations raised by Apple. In August, Motorola agreed to be acquired by Google Inc. (GOOG) in a $12.5 billion deal that would give the developer of the Android mobile-operating system its own handset maker and some key patent protection. Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) - reports Feb. 8 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a loss of 37 cents a share on $8.69 billion in revenue, compared with a loss of 29 cents a share and $8.3 billion, respectively, a year earlier. Key Issues: Sprint started selling the iPhone in October, the same month it posted a narrower-than-expected third-quarter loss as it reported nearly 1.3 million net wireless-subscriber additions. Analysts expect Sprint to report a fourth-quarter increase in contract customers due to the iPhone, while Sprint has said it expects net postpaid-subscriber additions for 2011. The company has used aggressive promotions, like lowering phone prices, to stem the decline in lucrative contract subscribers and it expects to improve net wireless-subscriber additions from the year earlier. CenturyLink Inc. (CTL) - reports Feb. 15 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of 61 cents a share on $4.62 billion in revenue, compared with 76 cents a share and $1.72 billion, respectively, a year earlier. Key Issues: The third-largest landline provider in the U.S. raised its full-year earnings guidance after it reported sharply higher third-quarter revenue on contributions from its Qwest and Savvis acquisitions. The company, which primarily serves rural areas, is targeting business customers and Internet services to mitigate the steady decline of consumer subscriptions as cellphones saturate the market. (The Thomson Reuters financial estimates and year-earlier figures may not be comparable due to one-time items and other adjustments.) -By Melodie Warner, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2283;

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