Verizon is now bigger than parent Vodafone

Chinese and U.S. operators continued to dominate the list of global mobile operators by revenue, according to Wireless Intelligence. China Mobile(s chl) further solidified its top spot in both subscribers and revenue, but, most surprisingly, Verizon Wireless(s vz) leapfrogged its corporate parent Vodafone(s vod) in the fourth quarter in overall revenues.

Vodafone is the world’s biggest multi-national operator with 384 million subscribers at the end of 211, while Verizon boasted 109 million connections. But there is a critical difference in the kinds of subscribers they each serve:

  • Verizon focuses on the upper tiers of the U.S. wireless market, targeting high-dollar contract customers while generally eschewing lower-revenue wholesale deals (though it is starting to target that segment more).
  • Vodafone’s networks are spread all over the world, including in developing markets where revenues per subscriber are much leaner, and its services run the gamut of prepaid and postpaid.

Verizon is also growing while Vodafone is shrinking. Verizon’s fourth quarter revenues grew 6.4 percent to $15.1 billion, while Vodafone’s shrank 3.1 percent to 14.7 billion (€11.5 billion), which is ultimately the reason why the two carriers swapped the second and third spots late last year.

Of course, Vodafone probably isn’t complaining. It owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless, so it benefits from Verizon’s success. Wireless Intelligence, however, only counts subscribers and revenues in a multinational operator’s totals if it has more than 50 percent stake in a carrier.

Not much else has changed since Wireless Intelligence released the same rankings last year:

  • AT&T(s t) and Telefonica(s tef) rounded out the top five.
  • Sprint(s S), despite its struggles, remains revenue-wise the tenth largest mobile operator in the world.
  • Japan’s SoftBank Mobile jumped over Telecom Italia(s ti) to claim the No. 12 slot.
  • China Unicom(s chu) moved up a notch.
  • Russia’s VimpelCom(s vip) and China Telecom(s cha) also debuted in the top 20, grabbing the Nos. 14 and 19 respectively.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user superwebdeveloper.