What Are the Largest Phone Companies?

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The World's Largest Telephone Company

The 2015 edition of an annual Forbes survey of large telecommunication companies shows that China Mobile is once again the world's largest in terms of the number of subscribers. However judged, it is a very large company, with a net worth of $280 billion. Forbes ranks it as the 20th largest company of any kind in the world.

The Largest U.S. Telephone Company

The same Forbes survey ranked Verizon, the largest U.S. telephone company, as second world-wide. As of August 2015, the company's net worth was slightly under $233 billion. Forbes ranks it as the 22nd largest company in the world.

Second-Largest U.S. Telephone Company

According to another Forbes article, AT&T (formerly American Telephone & Telegraph) is the next largest U.S. telephone company and the 27th largest company in the world. Its assets of $292.8 billion are substantially greater than either Verizon's $233 billion, or even China Mobile's $280; Its market value of $173 billion, however, trails China Mobile's by nearly $100 billion and Verizon's by nearly $30 billion.

Forbes uses market value rather than asset value to rank companies by size. Neither market value -- the total value of a company's outstanding shares -- nor net asset value -- the total estimated value of whatever the company owns minus its liabilities -- is a straightforward indicator of a company's worth. Market value tells you more about how people feel about the company, and is generally a better indicator of the company's future growth.

The Growing Importance of Cellular Business

That AT&T's market value trails Verizon's substantially, even though it has considerably greater assets, demonstrates that investors have greater faith in Verizon's dominance in the cellular market. According to Associated Press's Peter Svensson, writing in Salon, AT&T's landline business is actually greater than Verizon's, which has aggressively divested its landline assets. Svensson writes that AT&T intends to follow, in keeping with the general trend that has seen the number of U.S. landlines drop from more than 182 million in 2000, to less than 82 million in 2013. In the same Salon article, Harold Feld, an executive at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that advocates in the digital marketplace, predicts the eventual end of landlines entirely.