European mobile service revenue growth again improved, albeit marginally, with the quarter’s gain driven by declines easing further in what nevertheless remain the three weakest markets: France, Italy and Spain. Generally stabilising pricing environments were a key factor although ARPUs in these markets remain largely in decline, under continued pressure from strong out-of-bundle revenue declines

In a post-consolidation world, H3G/O2 in the UK and Yoigo in Spain will be the only mobile-only MNOs in the top five European mobile markets, effectively cementing a convergence based future. Consolidation trends might point to the prospect of greater price stabilisation but a fresh land grab for the converged market could derail this

Overall, in spite of healthy underlying data trends, we continue to see medium term growth recovery prospects capped at around 1% given precedent from both the UK, where a healthy economy, healthy pricing environment and strong data trends have failed to exceed this level, and Germany, where post-consolidation revenue growth has reverted to negative territory, both due to competition and consolidation

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

UK residential communications revenue growth bounced up in Q3 as we had predicted, on the back of continuing solid volume growth and improved ARPU growth driven by a series of price increases impacting in the quarter

The overall revenue growth of 6% was supported by some one-off factors, such as overlapping price increases and the launch of BT Sport Europe, but we believe that growth at this level will be sustained for the next two quarters at least

Looking forward, the impact of TalkTalk’s cyber-attack is uncertain in the detail, but it will clearly slow TalkTalk, benefit some of the others and may temporarily impact market volumes. Another area of competitive uncertainty is the impact of Virgin Media’s network extension as it gathers momentum into 2016, with all of the others likely to lose significant share in Virgin’s expanded areas

The government is expected to announce a Digital Bill in Q1 2016 that will propose profound changes to the structure and funding of the public service broadcasters (PSBs) in television, one of its aims being to enable them to extract retransmission fees from pay-TV platforms, valued at £200 million a year or more for the commercial PSBs

So far the government has only committed itself in its March 2015 consultation paper to the repeal of Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act (CDPA 1988), which in isolation will adversely impact only the Virgin Media cable platform

Now its ambitions appear to go far beyond introducing retransmission fees towards dismantling the entire UK PSB TV regulatory infrastructure of privileges and obligations and paving the way towards vacation of the DTT spectrum

Virgin Media had its strongest quarter for three years in broadband net adds market share – a robust performance in a competitive environment and very much in line with recent strong performances at both Sky and BT

Group revenue growth improved 1ppt, or 3ppts adjusting for distortions, driven by accelerating growth in all operating divisions although higher content and hardware input costs offset the benefit to margins

The Project Lightning network expansion program continues, targeting 250k new premises by the end of 2015, with a discernible impact to subscriber and revenue growth likely to be apparent from the start of 2016

EE reported strong mobile contract net adds in Q3, after a string of weaker performances earlier in the year following the closure of Phones 4U and retirement of the Orange and T-Mobile brands

Contract ARPU growth remained at -3.1%, keeping mobile service revenue in modest decline (-1.4%), a disappointing result in comparison to modest positive growth at its rivals in recent quarters, although improving subscriber numbers should start to bridge this gap

Fixed broadband subscriber growth suffered in a competitive quarter, with EE unable to maintain momentum when faced with the launch of BT Sport Europe and corresponding increased marketing spend from Sky

European mobile service revenue growth improved to the highest in over four years driven by improvements in the three slowest growing markets of late. Out-of-bundle revenues are still declining at a rate of over 10% but data revenue growth trends point to underlying strengths in the revenue profile. Looking at the longer term picture begs the question as to whether the quarter’s improvement can be repeated over the next 18 months, transforming the industry into one with extremely healthy revenue growth of 5%-10%; on balance we are not very optimistic

Two major in-mobile transactions are yet to be approved by the EC, namely H3G/O2 in the UK and an H3G/Wind JV in Italy. The recent precedent from Denmark is somewhat discouraging, although the Danish consolidation was unusual in some respects. Nonetheless comments from the new competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager suggest that regulatory caution towards 4-to-3 mergers is still high

Progress towards convergence is continuing with few operators in a post-consolidation world being either 100% fixed or 100% mobile. Convergence has to date been discount-led and damaging to market revenues, but post-consolidation, operator rhetoric has been reassuringly more focused on intentions for increased investment in both LTE mobile networks and high speed fixed networks

UK mobile service revenue growth dipped a touch in Q2, falling to 0.9% from 1.0% in the previous quarter, although all of the dip and more was due to the reintroduction of mobile termination rate cuts in the quarter, with underlying growth rising to 1.3%

O2 is now the fastest growing operator in both contract net adds and service revenue growth terms, exceeding even the much smaller H3G, and its revenue growth lead over EE and Vodafone expanded during the quarter

BT’s consumer mobile launch was relatively successful from BT’s perspective, with it garnering 100k subscribers in the first three months, but this appeared to have no impact at all on the mobile operators, which had a relatively strong quarter for contract net adds in spite of this. We conclude that much of the fixed line MVNO base growth is coming from impulsively upgrading prepay users, consumers wanting a spare SIM and other MVNO customer bases – sources that do not threaten the MNOs

While volume growth remained robust in Q2, UK residential communications revenue growth did dip again during the quarter, to 3.6% from 4.5% in the previous quarter and 5%-6% for much of 2014

However, this largely related to the timing of price increases, with there being a host of headline and effective increases due before the end of the year. The combined effect of those announced so far is sufficient to push market growth back up to the 5%-6% range for both of the next two quarters

Looking ahead, the actual launch of BT Sport Europe in Q3 may have further impact, but a modest pre-launch effect suggests that this will not be dramatic. BT will be hoping that it at least drives an acceleration of growth in its TV base, given that it is still free for these users

Virgin Media’s subscriber figures bounced back in Q2 after a weak Q1, and consumer revenue growth also improved to a respectable 3% despite continued headwinds from VAT changes

The UK broadband market remains tough, and BT Sport Europe’s launch in Q3 will not make it any easier, but Virgin Media’s access to this and all other sports channels means that it should be able to remain above the fray

The network extension program is likely to give further growth impetus from 2016, and the company is laying the groundwork for network speed upgrades which will maintain its speed advantage for at least the medium term