While altnets continued their strong expansion in 2023, a slowdown in 2024 is looking very likely, with financing drying up due to tougher financial conditions and disappointing operating performances from some.
Consolidation is the obvious answer, and the altnets could consolidate into a pure wholesaler (via CityFibre), a retail/wholesale player, or could be absorbed into VMO2/nexfibre.
Which of these routes is taken, and how quickly, will have a profound impact on the structure of the industry, and all players should be careful what they wish for, with long-term outcomes hard to reliably predict in such a complex marketplace.
UK consumers bought £123 billionof goods online in 2023, up 63% on 2019 (vs 7% for offline). Online sales of non-store retailers, such as Amazon (and Temu, Shein, Next), reached £60 billion in 2023, of which Amazon—a nascent online advertiser in the UK—accounts for about £43 billion.
The pandemic’s structural boost to the online channels of store retailers—which operate on the open internet, outside online walled gardens—lifted sales to £63 billion in 2023, up a huge 78% on 2019. With more competition for spend in straitened times, they are using advertising more aggressively.
The open internet is also the domain for online-transacted services: the return to in-person experiences drove the biggest ecommerce gains since 2022, as consumers purchased services online worth an estimated £291 billion in 2023 and rising.
VMO2 ended 2023 with strong ARPU and EBITDA growth, meeting its (revised) guidance for the full year, but saw receding subscriber momentum across both fixed and mobile.
2024 will be much tougher across the industry and for VMO2 in particular, with its revenue expected to be flat at best, and waning boosts from price rises and synergies coupled with a series of technical factors shrinking EBITDA.
The company has promised new commercial initiatives in 2024, and thereafter we see strong potential in it maximizing the use of its network and retail arms via breaking the long-standing lock between them, although the formation of NetCo is neither a necessary nor sufficient step for this.