Consumer Cellular on track to pass 3M-customer mark this year

MVNO Consumer Cellular confirmed that it currently counts 2.9 million customers and expects to reach the 3 million customer mark this year.

Those figures represent a relatively solid growth trajectory and appear to make Consumer Cellular the nation’s second-largest MVNO behind America Movil’s TracFone and its 23 million U.S. customers. (Comcast’s relatively new Xfinity Mobile service counts just half a million customers.) Most MVNOs don’t release their subscriber numbers.

Consumer Cellular disclosed in May that it counted 2.75 million customers, up from 2.5 million customers a year ago and 2.1 million in August of 2016. The carrier entered 2013 with roughly 1 million customers.

The history of MVNOs in the U.S. is strewn with failed businesses, from high-profile brands such as Disney Mobile and Mobile ESPN in the early days of the market to smaller efforts such as For Defense Mobile and Scratch Wireless. More recently, RingPlus was shuttered after it failed to make a go of free, ad-supported calling plans.

Providing services to niche markets has become a key strategy for MVNOs, and as Consumer Cellular evolved it began targeting users 50 and older. Roughly 10 years ago, the company inked a revenue-sharing partnership agreement with AARP that essentially allows the company to advertise to AARP members. (Consumer Cellular materials are included in AARP’s new-member welcome packet.)

Consumer Cellular however is likely facing increased challenges as carriers including Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon eye the 55-and-older market for wireless service. All of those carriers are offering services that are discounted for that age group.

Interestingly, as Wave7 Research recently pointed out, Consumer Cellular is selling a tablet for senior users called the GrandPad. The tablet costs $200 or $10 down and $10 per month. There is only one service plan for it, Wave7 noted, a $40 unlimited data plan.