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The activation of 3.1 million iPhones represented the second-highest quarter in the history of Apple's handset on the AT&T network. The best was in the summer of 2009, when the nation's second-largest wireless provider activated a record 3.2 million iPhones.
AT&T now has 85.1 million total subscribers, and continues to gain on Verizon, the market leader. Verizon, earlier this week, reported a total subscriber base of 91.2 million.
For all of 2009, AT&T added 7.3 million new subscribers, which was the company's best-ever annual total. AT&T reported 51 cents of diluted earnings per share in its fourth financial quarter, compared to 41 cents in the same frame of 2008.
AT&T also revealed Thursday that 1 million of its new customers were from non-phone devices, like the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader. AT&T recently struck deals with those companies to provide wireless access for the dedicated devices.
While the e-reader subscriptions helped to boost AT&T's overall total, the company lagged behind Verizon in terms of customers under contract. AT&T added 910,000 new customers under long-term deals, while Verizon acquired 1.2 million subscribers under contract. Customers on contract are far more profitable for wireless providers.
AT&T's role in the e-reader market — with no-contract data plans — is poised to grow even more, after Apple revealed Wednesday that its forthcoming iPad device will offer 3G access with the 9.7-inch touchscreen device. Plans will be $15 per month with a 250MB data cap, or $30 per month for unlimited data access. Both plans will come with no annual contract and can be added or canceled from the iPad at any time.
The 3G-enabled iPad will have a starting price of $629 for 16GB of storage and is expected to become available in three months. The device will ship unlocked, but GSM-only, and only supports AT&T's wireless 3G network in the U.S.