Verizon Wireless still ahead of AT&T in apples-to-apples customer comparison

AT&T's 95.5M subscribers actually compares with Verizon's 102.2M

What is a wireless subscriber? And what is a wireless customer? The difference is important when it comes to the two largest U.S. wireless carriers.

On Thursday, AT&T reported for its fourth quarter that it had added 2.8 million "total wireless subscribers" to reach 95.5 million subscribers by the end of 2010.

Computerworld reported incorrectly on AT&T's statement that the 95.5 million was enough to put AT&T ahead of Verizon Wireless in subscribers. That was based on Verizon reporting on Tuesday that it had 94.1 million "total customers" at the end of the fourth quarter.

In fact, Verizon also had in its fourth quarter report 102.2 million "total connections," which compares correctly to AT&T's 95.5 million "wireless subscribers... in service," according to representatives for the two carriers.

By that count, Verizon is ahead.

Without the "connections," also referred to as connected devices like Kindle e-readers, Verizon has 94.1 "total customers" while AT&T without the connected devices has 86 million, according to the two carriers.

"Verizon Wireless is still the largest carrier in terms of customers," Verizon spokeswoman Nancy Stark said in an e-mail to Computerworld.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said in a telephone interview that AT&T's 95.5 million includes connected devices. "We're very transparent about that," he said.

Siegel argued that owners of connected devices including tablets who are not on long-term contracts are "subscribers" to the AT&T service and can be termed as such.

Despite Siegel's contention that AT&T is "transparent" about including connected devices in its subscriber number, AT&T's main press release on its fourth quarter report does not explain that distinction.

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