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Format: Feb 2018
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UK Mobile Consumer Trends

The UK mobile market can give the unwary observer the impression of strong subscriber growth, dangerously high levels of competition for the incumbents, and high levels of consumer enthusiasm for both advanced handsets and advanced mobile data services. These impressions are however all incorrect or misleading, as our recent UK mobile user survey helps to show.

Media 12 May 2005
UK mobile market Q1 2013: 4G progresses but does not transform

Overall UK mobile revenue growth slipped slightly in Q1, dropping 0.4ppts to -4.3%, although, taking into account the leap year effect, underlying growth likely improved a touch, marking the second quarter of growth being at least stable

EE announced 4G subscriber figures for the first time, reporting 318k subscribers at the end of the quarter, a very respectable figure given coverage, handset and price tier limitations. We expect this figure to grow strongly as coverage rolls out and 4G handset availability spreads, but the 4G revenue premium is still unlikely to be significant in 2013

The outlook for revenue growth in the rest of 2013 is fairly positive – the MTR impact will partly drop out from Q2 onwards, boosting reported revenue by over 2ppts, some mid-contract price increases will take effect, and pricing (so far) has remained reasonably stable

  • Vodafone
  • T-Mobile
  • Orange
  • O2
  • Hutchison 3G
  • EE
Mobile, Telecoms 2 June 2013
UK mobile market Q1 2014: Heading for positivity

UK mobile service revenue growth remained relatively healthy at -1.6% in Q1 2014, despite the absence of some favourable one-off factors in the previous quarter, consolidating the improvements seen in 2013. Underlying growth improved a touch to 0.3%, and given that the regulatory impact will drop out next quarter, reported revenue growth may well turn positive in Q2

Service revenue growth among the ‘big three’ has re-converged to around -3% to -4%, with Vodafone improving due to strong recent subscriber gains, and EE worsening slightly after a strong previous quarter. H3G’s growth worsened due to the previous quarter including some one-off benefits, but it remains very strong at 10%, with contract ARPU having stabilised

We expect the market environment to continue to be relatively benign, with the biggest disruptive threats Vodafone, which is currently competing on quality but may become more aggressive on price if it loses patience, and the fixed line operator MVNOs, who have significant distribution disadvantages but nonetheless can harm the market with discounted pricing

  • Vodafone
  • O2
  • Hutchison 3G
  • EE
Mobile, Telecoms 24 June 2014
UK mobile market Q1 2015: A little growth, less convergence

UK mobile service revenue growth continued to improve, rising to 1.2% in Q1, a modest figure but still the best of the five largest European mobile markets, albeit weaker than the UK consumer fixed line market (4%-5%)

O2 continued to be the strongest grower of the ‘big 3’, and maintained over 40% share of contract net adds. Both Vodafone and EE appear to have suffered from the demise of Phones 4U, having been its biggest (and latterly its only) network operator suppliers. EE is also suffering from the gradual withdrawal of its Orange and T-Mobile brands, which is forcing it to work harder to both attract and retain customers

Vodafone launched a competitively priced consumer fixed broadband offer on 10 June. EE has shown that there is an opportunity for Vodafone to have some limited success cross-selling broadband through its shops, but O2's mobile-only success and EE's struggles in its mobile business suggest that this will not drive improved mobile performance

  • EE
  • Hutchison 3G
  • O2
  • Vodafone
Mobile, Telecoms 17 June 2015
UK mobile market Q1 2016: Future uncertain

UK mobile service revenue growth marginally improved in Q1, to 0.5% from 0.3% in the previous quarter, with the market now having been stuck at a modest but positive growth level for two full years. The improvement was driven by contract ARPU growth improvements, across all of the operators, partially mitigated by a drop in contract subscriber volume growth, perhaps influenced by a weak market for new handsets

Looking forward, the competitive outlook is very uncertain; while EE is looking to increase its network lead, whether it wishes to use this to boost share or pricing is unclear, O2’s future owners may have different strategic priorities to the status quo, H3G will likely take innovative approaches, which are tautologically hard to predict, and Vodafone UK remains Vodafone’s only large European market without a scale position in consumer broadband, a situation it is likely to want to rectify in due course

While before the Brexit referendum, we would have concluded that the outlook for market-wide revenue growth was reasonably positive in spite of this, with ever-strong data volume growth contrasting with constrained spectrum supply, the extra economic uncertainty due to the referendum result puts this at least partly in doubt. The mobile market is likely to be relatively insensitive to macroeconomic conditions given its increasingly essential nature, but there is some sensitivity, particularly if population growth slows or reverses. Our base case assumption is a dip in growth of 1-2ppts in 2017 as a consequence of Brexit

  • EE
  • Hutchison 3G
  • O2
  • Vodafone
Telecoms 5 July 2016
UK mobile market Q1 2017: EE leads the way

UK mobile service revenue growth continued to improve, with EE now the clear leader in service revenue growth terms. The rate of improvement has started to slow, but pricing remains solid and data traffic continues to grow healthily

EE’s performance was helped by robust subscriber growth but mainly driven by its very strong ARPU growth, which is in turn driven by ‘more-for-more’ pricing and a service/content tiered pricing model. Others are starting to follow this approach

The short/medium term outlook remains healthy, with the price increases made in Q2 likely to more than compensate for roaming cuts in the latter part of the year.  Looking further forward, the launch of 5G could be disruptive due to the introduction of copious extra spectral capacity, and therefore the results of the upcoming auction will be key for the sector post-2020

  • EE
  • Hutchison 3G
  • O2
  • Vodafone
Mobile, Telecoms 22 June 2017
UK mobile market Q2 2012: Steady H1, exciting H2 ahead

In this presentation we show our analysis of the UK mobile market performance to Q2 2012 and consider the outlook both in terms of market growth and competitive dynamics

  • Vodafone
  • T-Mobile
  • Orange
  • O2
  • Hutchison 3G
  • EE
Mobile, Telecoms 5 September 2012
UK mobile market Q2 2013: 4G on a budget

UK mobile market revenue growth improved in Q2, rising to -3.6% from -5.0% in the previous quarter, but we see this as driven entirely by an easing in the regulated MTR impact, with underlying growth actually dropping. O2’s revenue growth has continued to improve, Vodafone and EE’s revenue growth both improved roughly in line with the market, and H3G’s growth declined but remained much above the other three Both Vodafone and O2 announced plans to launch 4G on 29 August but both also have modest roll-out plans, with only 13 cities due to be covered by the end of the year, leaving both with less than half the coverage of EE, and H3G is not planning to launch until Q4. There is some debate over how much consumers are likely to value 4G, with a number of consumer surveys putting interest at a low level. Our own survey is consistent with this, but reveals that interest among high-end smartphone owners – who tend to spend more on handsets and airtime – is very much higher O2 is now selling all its upper end contract plans under the ‘O2 Refresh’ structure, which splits handset and airtime fees but in such a way as to allow it to make good margins on handset sales, a clever way to take advantage of smartphone popularity as opposed to working against it as many operators do. The other operators may well follow suit

  • Vodafone
  • O2
  • Hutchison 3G
  • EE
Mobile, Telecoms 22 August 2013
UK mobile market Q2 2014: Pricing stable, volume surges, growth returns

UK mobile service revenue growth finally returned to positive territory in Q2 2014 after three years of decline, largely driven by the MTR impact dropping out, but also helped by a 0.6ppt improvement in underlying growth

Data volumes accelerated markedly during the quarter, with 4G and improved 3G speeds encouraging more video/media activity, which is far more bandwidth intensive (as well as having less of a substitution effect) than text communications activity. As consumers move to higher data bundles, smartphone usage may actually start to enhance ARPU through tariff upgrades as opposed to damage ARPUs through lower out-of-bundle voice and text usage

The outlook remains positive, with headline pricing stable, contract ARPUs stabilising and the competitive environment relatively benign

  • Vodafone
  • O2
  • Hutchison 3G
  • EE
Mobile, Telecoms 8 September 2014
UK mobile market Q2 2016: Revenue growth slows, profitability resilient

UK mobile service revenue growth dipped down in Q2 to -1.7%, with this being driven by some one-off factors, such as MTR and roaming cuts, and some longer terms trends, such as the continued rise in SIM-only

Profitability nonetheless improved at all of the operators, suggesting strong ongoing cost control, and that some of the revenue weakness is caused by factors that do not impact (or even positively impact) the bottom line

Competitive performances were mixed, with EE’s revenue growth improvement contrasting with dips at the other three operators, driven by EE’s strong commercial momentum and it taking the SIM-only and roaming hit earlier than the other operators

  • BT
  • EE
  • Hutchison 3G
  • TalkTalk
  • Virgin Media
  • Vodafone
Media, Mobile, Telecoms 5 September 2016
UK mobile market Q2 2017: Brief holiday

Mobile service revenue growth continued to improve on a reported basis, but most of this improvement came from a significant dip in the MTR cut drag. EE remained the leader in terms of service revenue growth, with both the strongest ARPU growth and robust contract net adds

The quarter also benefited from the current round of in-contract price increases, which were more widespread and at a higher level than last year, and from a brief holiday in the impact of roaming cut regulation, the impact of which will strongly reverse in Q3 as ‘free roaming’ impacts the whole quarter at the same time as mobile users take their actual holidays

Recent spectrum announcements have far from clarified the auction outlook, with Ofcom deciding on a more restrictive spectrum cap than its initial views but both H3G and EE appealing its decision. It will likely be some time before all 5G spectrum auction rules are resolved, let alone actually holding the auctions or building the networks

  • EE
  • Hutchison 3G
  • O2
  • Vodafone
Mobile, Telecoms, Vodafone 3 October 2017
UK mobile market Q3 2012: Awaiting 4G

UK mobile service revenue growth nudged down in Q3 2012 by 2.0ppts to -3.8%, with 0.5ppts driven by an increase in the effect of regulated MTR cuts and 1.5ppts caused by underlying factors, largely driven by a weakening UK economy

In October EE launched its new brand and 4G service to great fanfare. The response of the other operators has been very mixed; Vodafone has indicated that it will launch a better 4G network next year, H3G has emphasised the merits of its 3G network, and O2 has not focused on networks at all. We continue to believe that EE’s 4G products will be good for its ARPU but not necessarily raw subscriber numbers, with the rebrand exercise bringing additional synergy benefits to its bottom line

The overall outlook is looking tough for the next six months, with consumer confidence still low and unlimited tariffs hitting pricing, but more promising thereafter, as the 4G premium becomes more material, and the regulated MTR cuts finally start to moderate in Q2 2013

  • Vodafone
  • T-Mobile
  • Orange
  • O2
  • Hutchison 3G
  • EE
Mobile, Telecoms 14 December 2012
UK mobile market Q3 2013: Flattening out

UK mobile market service revenue growth improved on a reported basis in Q3 to -3%, but was unchanged on an underlying basis, still not a bad result after six consecutive quarters of underlying growth declining, albeit in the context of rapidly improving macroeconomic conditions

All four operators now offer 4G services, with O2 and Vodafone launching within the quarter and H3G in December. EE will nonetheless maintain its coverage and speed advantage for 2014, but others (most likely Vodafone) may challenge thereafter. H3G is offering 4G at no extra cost, reflecting its focus on unlimited data and meeting the capacity requirements for this, and O2 has recently cut its 4G tariffs to match those of 3G (but with a high minimum entry point), leaving EE the only operator with an explicit 4G premium

The overall outlook is mixed – we would expect some improvement to revenue growth into 2014 as the MTR impact wears off and the dilutive effect of unlimited tariffs wane, but this may be countered by a lack of mid-contract price increases, and while 4G is likely to benefit all as it drives data volumes and encourages package upgrades, the impact will be gradual

  • Vodafone
  • O2
  • Hutchison 3G
  • EE
Mobile, Telecoms 16 December 2013
UK mobile market Q3 2014: Growth maintained, but uncertainty ahead

UK mobile service revenue growth stayed positive in Q3 2014, albeit at a slightly lower level than last quarter, an achievement given performance in recent years, but a slight disappointment given the previous improving trend. Pricing trends were a little worrying, but data volumes continue to accelerate markedly

With Phones 4U ceasing to trade towards the end of the quarter, Q4’s subscriber shares will be largely determined by where its prior customers end up. With these representing 13% of market gross adds which implies 65% of net adds, the impact is significant

Merger talks underway with the parents of O2/EE and BT, with H3G reportedly getting involved, will have an impact whether they lead to a deal or not; if either EE or O2 (or both) remain independent within the UK, they will likely need reinvigorating and re-motivating as to their raison d’etre or risk drifting without a clear direction

 

  • Vodafone
  • O2
  • Hutchison 3G
  • Carphone Warehouse
  • EE
Mobile, Telecoms 8 December 2014
UK mobile market Q3 2015: Stuck at 1%

UK mobile service revenue growth remained at 0.9% in Q3, but on an underlying basis growth increased 0.1ppts to 1.4%. This continues a trend of very gradual improvement in underlying growth over the past year, while reported growth has stayed constant at around 1% due to the re-introduction of regulated MTR cuts on 1 May 2015

Within the market, performances were mixed. O2 remains a service revenue growth star performer thanks to strong sustained contract net adds and stable contract ARPU while Vodafone’s service revenue growth fell back into decline as its contract ARPU suffered due to a sharp fall in out-of-bundle revenue. EE’s contract net adds were strong, but its contract ARPU growth remains weak, partly due to its renewed contract net adds performance being supported by low ARPU data devices and B2B

Since the end of the quarter, on 28 October, the CMA provisionally approved the BT/EE acquisition without conditions, and on 30 October, the EC opened an in-depth investigation into H3G/O2. Both acquirers would be wise in our view to be wary of making any rapid changes to branding and/or channel strategy, given that EE and O2 account for nearly 60% of UK gross subscriber additions between them and disrupting these sales will have a significant impact on subscriber growth, as EE’s experience since dropping Orange and T-Mobile has shown

  • EE
  • Hutchison 3G
  • O2
  • Vodafone
Telecoms 10 December 2015
UK mobile market Q3 2016: Growth recovers, but challenges await

UK mobile service revenue growth improved in Q3 to -0.8% from -1.7% in the previous quarter, a welcome turnaround after three quarters of declining growth. Pricing remains firm, data volume growth remains robust, and some of the one-off factors affecting the previous quarter have dropped out

Sky Mobile soft-launched at the end of 2016, and it is taking an aggressive approach with a very deep MVNO technical model with substantial fixed costs, a high advertising budget and ambitious internal subscriber targets. To date the fixed MVNOs have not had a substantial impact on the MNOs, targeting a customer base that is non-core, but with SIM-only on the rise this may change

Looking at recently released network performance statistics, the impact of spectrum disparities is clear, with EE both able to offer faster speeds nationwide due to its large blocks of 4G spectrum, and offer much faster speeds in London. EE also has a lead in geographic coverage, and is planning to push its coverage much further, creating a challenge for the other operators to keep up

  • EE
  • Hutchison 3G
  • Liberty Global
  • O2
  • Ofcom
  • Sky
  • TalkTalk
  • Telefonica
  • Virgin Media
  • Vodafone
Mobile, Telecoms, UK Media, Vodafone 20 December 2016
UK mobile market Q3 2017: Returns to scale

Mobile service revenue growth dipped this quarter but this was likely entirely due to the predictable (and predicted) impact of the abolition of EU roaming surcharges.  On an underlying basis, growth improved

BT/EE extended its lead in both service revenue and contract subscriber growth terms. EE’s substantial investments in network quality and customer service have driven returns to scale, and its multi-brand approach is working well

Contrasting with the returns to scale seen at EE, TalkTalk’s MVNO has suffered the reverse of this, unable to break-even despite peaking at just shy of 1 million customers, and deciding to retreat to an agency model.  Sky Mobile is performing respectably well in context, but may be headed for scale issues itself

  • BT
  • EE
  • Hutchison 3G
  • O2
  • Sky
  • TalkTalk
  • Vodafone
Mobile, Telecoms, Vodafone 8 December 2017
UK mobile market Q4 2012: 4G launches - little impact so far, more to come

UK mobile revenue growth was steady in Q4 at -3.9%, only a fractional drop from -3.8% in the previous quarter, with underlying growth unchanged, and contract subscriber growth and ARPU trends also unwavering, though the market solidity masked more dramatic developments in service offerings with the launch of the new EE umbrella brand and its 4G service

With the 4G spectrum auction now concluded, we can expect Vodafone and O2 to launch 4G services in the summer and H3G in the autumn; EE is looking to stay one step ahead with its recently announced speed doubling, and the intensity of marketing around 4G may even help its own service

While 4G will provide the talking points, actual financial results in 2013 will depend more on 3G base level pricing remaining firm; the signs so far are positive, with O2 having nudged up its core pricing, and mid-contract price increases scheduled by O2 and EE

  • Vodafone
  • Virgin Media
  • O2
  • Hutchison 3G
  • EE
Mobile, Telecoms 15 April 2013
UK mobile market Q4 2013: Bouncing up

UK mobile market service revenue growth improved on both a reported and underlying basis by 1.2ppts in Q4, a very welcome result after six consecutive quarters of declining underlying growth. Reported revenue is still in decline, at -1.6%, but it is the most modest decline among larger European countries, and compares to -5.0% in early 2013 EE is still leading in 4G coverage and performance, with around twice the coverage of its nearest rivals of basic 4G, double speed 4G now covering around 30% of the population, and plans for quadruple speed 4G to launch in 2014. Vodafone may prove the biggest network challenger going forward, with plans to increase capex as part of its Project Spring initiative Maintaining (or increasing) the current level of pricing is key to the industry returning to revenue growth in 2014. We would note that the smallest operator, H3G, is fairly unlikely to return to being a price discounter and put pressure on market prices, leaving the onus on the ‘big 3’ to stay disciplined, with a small but significant risk from SIM-only MVNO offers gaining more traction

  • EE
  • Hutchison 3G
  • Telefonica
  • Vodafone
Mobile, Telecoms 13 March 2014
UK mobile market Q4 2015: Growth softly softens

UK mobile service revenue growth dipped down in Q4, but at least remained still just positive at 0.3%. The dip was driven by contract ARPU weakness at the largest three operators, mitigated by strong ARPU growth at the smallest operator H3G

Looking forward, the sources of weakness (growth of SIM-only and tariff policy adjustments) look more temporary than the sources of growth (data volume growth filling up capacity). SIM-only is likely to hit a natural ceiling, whereas data volume growth has no ceiling in sight and the scope for network capacity expansion is limited

With CK Hutchison currently negotiating with the European Commission in regards to the fate of the H3G and O2 merger, there is a high level of uncertainty on the future of the structure of the UK mobile market. Merging the two networks would generate extra capacity and capability, likely increasing competitive intensity, but the precise form this would take is unclear, as is the future of the brands and the identity of the capacity MVNO recipient(s)

  • BT
  • EE
  • Hutchison 3G
  • O2
  • Vodafone
Mobile, Telecoms 30 March 2016

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