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Western Wireless

(WWCA)

, a provider of wireless communications services, posted a narrowed lost that handily beat Wall Street estimates Wednesday, as a growing subscriber base and increased roaming capabilities offset recent rate declines.

The Bellvue, Wash.-based company posted a third-quarter loss of $15.9 million, or 20 cents a share, 13 cents ahead of analysts' expectations, and well above its year-ago loss of $66.8 million, or 85 cents a share. Analysts were expecting the company to lose 33 cents a share, according to a poll conducted by research firm Thomson Financial/First Call. Revenue for the quarter rose 6.1% to $315.9 million, exceeding the $299 million consensus estimate.

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Service revenue at its domestic businesses increased to $218.2 million benefiting from continued improvements in subscriber revenue and robust growth in roaming usage. Average monthly subscriber revenue increased to $44.48, while roaming revenue for the quarter was $61.5 million. Western Wireless added 10,800 subscribers in the third quarter, bringing its total number of U.S. customers to roughly 1.18 million.

"In our domestic business, we posted meaningful improvement in subscriber additions, saw outstanding growth in roaming usage as a result of our unique ability to support our national roaming partners regardless of technology, and demonstrated our continued focus on cost control," the company said in a press release. The company's international business also delivered a "solid quarter."

Looking forward, Western Wireless said it expects domestic free cash flow for fiscal 2002 to exceed $200 million, compared with prior guidance of at least $160 million.

The shares were recently up 17.8% to $4.63 in after-hours trading on Instinet.