The prepaid guys pummeled each other during the fourth quarter of 2009 while the nation’s two largest carriers enjoyed their view from the throne. Users continued to move toward prepaid thanks to an ultra-competitive prepaid market that encourages users to switch providers at the drop of a hat. Leap (s leap), MetroPCS (s pcs), T-Mobile USA and Sprint (s s) claimed a combined 1.5 million net prepaid adds during the period, showing strong momentum of a trend that picked up steam last summer. But that growth had mixed results on the bottom line: Leap posted a wider loss for the quarter despite lowering its churn from the previous three-month period thanks partly to cheaper plans, while MetroPCS doubled its profits during the period as churn dropped.
Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless (s vz) and AT&T (s t) — the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 carrier, respectively — continued to expand their bases of postpaid users at the expense of T-Mobile (which lost 117,000 contract customers during the period) and Sprint (which lost more than a half-million postpaid users). Verizon got a boost from the debut of the Motorola (s mot) Droid, of course, which benefited from a $100 million marketing push. And AT&T — which did little during the quarter aside from working to shore up its inferior network — once again managed to post an industry-leading average revenue per user thanks to the iconic iPhone. It will be interesting to see whether AT&T and Verizon can continue to add subscribers this quarter after rolling out new price plans that effectively create two tiers of competition among postpaid providers.