Bell profit just over $2.6 billion in 2012

BCE Inc., the country’s largest communications company and parent of Bell Canada, chalked up fourth quarter 2012 profit of $708 million, a 45 per cent increase over the same period a year before.

For the full year net earnings were just over $2.6 billion on revenue of $19.9 billion, the company reported Friday, driven by its wireless and broadcasting divisions.

Bell Wireless operating revenue for 2012 increased 6.5 per cent over the previous year to $5.573 billion. Bell Wireless includes the Solo and Virgin Mobile brands.

For the fourth quarter – which included the holiday season – wireless revenue increased 6.8 per cent to $1.458 billion, helped by a 28 per cent increase in mobile data revenue.

“Despite average handset prices that were generally lower because of competitive holiday pricing, product revenues increased 2.3 per cent to $132 million, reflecting higher sales of more expensive smart phones,” the company said.

The report also highlighted the shift by Bell cellular subscribers from prepaid to postpaid plans. Postpaid gross activations (which doesn’t include those who left) for the quarter totalled 394,706, up 1.4 per cent from the same period in 2011, “led by strong sales of Apple iPhones and leading Android devices during the holiday period.”

On the other hand prepaid gross activations dropped 17.6 per cent, in part because Bell is targeting postpaid subscribers, and in part because of “aggressive acquisition offers from competitors” who targeted lower paying customers.

At the end of 2012 Bell – the country’s second largest wireless carrier behind Rogers Communications Inc. — said it had just over 7.68 million wireless subscribers.

For several years wireline revenues in Ontario and Quebec have been a drag for telecom carriers as subscribers shift to wireless, VoIP and other providers. This has been slowing at Bell in part because it has been spending heavily on fibre optic TV and Internet service – called Fibe TV — to better compete against cable.

Still, wireline revenues dropped in 2012 by 3.8 per cent to $10.2 billion.

 “Reduced spending by business customers on wireline data products and information and communications technology services, reflecting continued slow economic growth, as well as the re-pricing of connectivity services” were factors hitting the wireline side.

 In the Maritimes, the Bell Aliant division saw revenue for the year drop 0.5 per cent to $2.7 billion.

“Bell’s Q4 results capped off a solid year of strong operating performance led by Bell Wireless, Bell Media, and the accelerating success of Bell Fibe TV as we continued to expand our Fibe footprint in Montréal and Toronto and launched the country’s largest fibre to the home rollout in Québec City,” BCE [TSX: BCE] CEO George Cope said in a statement.

Rogers and Telus Corp. will report their Q4 and full year results Feb. 15.

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