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A buried clue in Verizon earnings: Wearables are finally gaining steam

  • Verizon reported adding 238,000 "other devices," 274,000 net phone additions and 91,000 tablets during the third quarter.
  • It's the first time that wearables have been mentioned in a Verizon conference call in the past five years.
  • Wearables are now the leader of the "other devices" category, a spot previously held by Verizon's own device.
Apple Watch Series 3
Nina Raja | CNBC
Apple Watch Series 3

If you think Verizon's just a cell phone company, check out its latest earnings report.

Verizon said on Thursday it got more new customers than expected during the latest quarter, adding 603,000 retail postpaid connections. This happened despite later phone releases from Apple and Google, which might move more phone upgrades into the fourth quarter, according to executives speaking on the conference call.

But about a third of new customers came for "other connected devices," led by wearables: 238,000, to be exact. For reference, Verizon posted 274,000 net phone additions and 91,000 tablets.

It's the first time that wearables have been mentioned in a Verizon conference call in the past five years, according to FactSet, and the first time that wearables have been a category big enough to mention in a Verizon earnings release.

The "other devices" category also includes MiFi devices, for instance, a spokesperson said. But wearables are now the leader of the category, including many watches with LTE coverage. Wearables unseated Verizon's own product, smart car technology "Hum," which led the "other" devices category this time last year.

The rising popularity of wearables could be a good omen for companies such as Apple that are betting big on cellular in smartwatches. Verizon's wearables section also includes FitBits and Garmins, VR headsets from Samsung and Google, and smartwatches from Fossil.

Apple has never disclosed smartwatch sales, lumping them in with devices like the Apple TV and earbuds. But Apple's "other products" category grew revenue 23 percent year over year last quarter, before the release of the new Apple Watch.

Verizon's reporting change seems to support reports from GBH Insights and IDC indicating that smartwatches are gaining traction among mainstream consumers.

"Previous niche features such as GPS and additional health tracking capabilities are quickly becoming staples of the modern smartwatch," Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers, wrote in August, just before the launch of the new Apple Watch.

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