Xfinity Mobile's iPhone X promo an 'incremental risk' to AT&T: Deutsche Bank

Wireless service providers are moving to leverage the iPhone X as the industry nears the crucial holiday season. And surprisingly, Comcast might be the most aggressive player in the market.

U.S. carriers have been notably passive during the last few months despite the introduction of some compelling smartphones that would typically spark aggressive promotional campaigns, as Wave7 Research pointed out in a recent note to subscribers. In fact, at least two network operators are ratcheting up the price of service plans as some promotional offers are retired.

Operators will begin taking preorders for the phone tomorrow, and the device will hit retail shelves late next week.

Apple introduced the iPhone X last month, unveiling a high-end device that features wireless charging, an OLED screen and a facial recognition system. The phone eschews the traditional iPhone home button for an edge-to-edge screen that requires users to swipe up from the bottom of the screen instead of pressing a button to access the device’s main screen.

The lack of aggressive promotional activity has likely shackled sales of the iPhone 8, which are reportedly sluggish as customers await the launch of Apple’s highly anticipated upcoming model. And carriers are stepping up their promotional efforts to take advantage, as WhistleOut recently noted:

  • Sprint customers can get a $350 discount off the lease price of an iPhone X when they trade in an eligible device and can then return the phone at the end of the 18-month lease or make a lump-sum payment to keep it.
  • T-Mobile is offering up to $300 in credit to both new and current users who trade in a recent smartphone and have an unlimited service plan.
  • Verizon users can also get as much as $300 in credit when they trade in a recent-model smartphone. The offer is available to both new and current customers on the carrier’s unlimited plan.

Interestingly, AT&T is opting not to launch an aggressive promotion in support of Apple’s upcoming phone.

“With regard to the competitive environment, so far we've seen some rational activity through the iPhone 8 launch and most recently the activities that are going on, so we're optimistic,” AT&T CFO John Stephens said on the carrier’s quarterly earnings call earlier this week, according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha. “We're certainly ready. And as you can see, our margins are very solid and the performance has been great. But we believe we can compete and win based on our product offerings and that promotional activity of an extensive nature is not necessary.”

Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile, though, is pushing the iPhone X hard, as Matthew Niknam of Deutsche Bank Markets Research observed in a research note earlier this week. The service provider is offering a $500 gift card through Dec. 3 to new customers who sign on to its “triple play” of TV, internet and mobile in a move that could see the company lure customers away from AT&T.

“Comcast’s focus on the bundle represents more risk for AT&T, in our view,” Niknam wrote. “AT&T’s focus on bundling has been key to retaining share, whether in video, wireless or broadband. While there’s been much discussion around a more active AT&T in recent weeks (potentially weighing on cable video trends), we think Comcast’s $500 gift card for new triple-play customers represents an incremental risk for AT&T given its national video platform, with lack of broadband bundling opportunity outside its 21-state ILEC (incumbent local exchange carrier) footprint.”