Laptop and tablet mobile service subscriptions and early upgrade programs show promise for mobile network providers

March 31, 2016

While US wireless service revenues have stalled in recent years as smartphone ownership becomes ubiquitous, the inclusion of laptops and tablets on mobile service plans and early upgrade programs have been a bright spot for the industry. New research from Mintel reveals that nearly one in five (17 percent) cell phone service subscribers have an additional device (eg tablet, laptop) on their current plan, highlighting an area of opportunity in a market that already has near-universal penetration of cell phone ownership (95 percent).

20% of consumers are enrolled in an early upgrade program

In addition to incorporating various devices on their plans, one in five (20 percent) consumers are enrolled in an early upgrade program, allowing them to upgrade their phone as often as three times per year with their service provider. While only one in six (15 percent) consumers changed carriers in 2015 (7 percent) or plan to do so in 2016 (8 percent), of those who plan to switch, one third (32 percent) have additional devices on their plan, and one quarter (23 percent) are enrolled in early upgrade programs.

However, as evidenced by the overwhelming majority of consumers who do not plan to change their service provider (92 percent), challenges exist for providers looking to acquire a larger share of the market. Among consumers not planning to switch, 65 percent say they are happy with their current provider, with another 20 percent agreeing that it’s more trouble than it is worth it to change providers. What’s more, one in 10 (10 percent) believe all cell phone service providers are the same.

“In recent years, cell phone subscribers have increasingly added laptops and tablets to their plans. Although the rate of inclusion may not continue to ascend at its current pace, our research indicates this is a great opportunity for providers to appeal to current subscribers and those looking to switch carriers. Early upgrade programs are similarly marketable to both current and potential subscribers,” said Billy Hulkower, Senior Technology Analyst at Mintel. “Once 5G becomes widely available, households with laptops and tablets on mobile plans may cut the cord to their home internet. This would represent a massive shift in sales from home internet providers to mobile network providers. Data restrictions would become the only reason to maintain home internet, and if mobile video is exempted from data restrictions, this obstacle largely disappears.”

Among consumers who plan to switch carriers, half (51 percent) are looking to get a cheaper plan and more than one third (36 percent) want to get more/unlimited data. This is supported by the Mintel Trend Unlimited, which highlights how a set fee upfront gives consumers better control of their finances and that unlimited service allows consumers to feel they are getting the most out of their money.

More data may be of particular interest to the one quarter of consumers who report using their phone as a mobile hotspot for other devices (26 percent) and watch videos on their phones on a daily basis (24 percent).

“Consumers who are willing to switch providers are looking for cheaper options, as well as better data packages to maximize the activities that drive high data usage, such as using their phones as mobile hotspots or watching videos. We know that watching videos in particular is popular, and mobile providers are offering new programs to provide unlimited data usage to do so. These programs could be a boon for providers once 5G comes to fruition and home internet potentially transitions from being necessary to optional for consumers,” continued Hulkower.


Mintel research reveals that two thirds (68 percent) of consumers have owned their cell phone for less than two years, indicating that traditional two year phone contracts remain the benchmark for product replacement. What’s more, the most popular reason consumers got their current phone is because their previous phone felt outdated (24 percent).

When looking to replace outdated mobile phones, price (74 percent) is the most influential factor in consumers’ purchase decision. With a multitude of options for researching new phones and competitive pricing across the market, seven in 10 (69 percent) consumers use advice from a service provider when they want to learn about a new phone.

“While traditional channels for purchasing phones such as service providers and retailers remain popular, they are less likely to be used as an online resource. As younger consumers, who may not have loyalty to a specific carrier, are more likely to do research online than in-person, brands should look to make their online platforms more immersive, giving consumers the ability to access virtual phone tours or guides through new operating systems without the need to be in-store,” concluded Hulkower.

Press copies of the Mobile Network Providers US 2016 report and interviews with Billy Hulkower, Senior Technology Analyst, are available on request from the press office.

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