Market revenue fell 6% in Q1 2020, largely due to lack of sports revenue (which will bounce back), but backbook pricing woes also hit.

Broadband volume growth accelerated though, and may accelerate further as supply constraints ease.

The increase in working-from-home may also enhance demand for ultrafast, the best hope for a return to industry revenue growth.

BT’s June quarter results were predictably hit by COVID-19, with revenue and EBITDA dropping by 7%, but less predictably most of the hit was on mobile and business customer revenue, with consumer fixed resilient despite the suspension of sport.

BT’s full year guidance is cautious, with a 7% EBITDA decline at the mid-point, with much of this caution around further hits to its business revenue as government support is withdrawn.

BT’s full year guidance is cautious, with a 7% EBITDA decline at the mid-point, with much of this caution around further hits to its business revenue as government support is withdrawn.

TalkTalk started its new financial year with revenue growth declining to -8% in Q1, although this is partly lockdown-related, and costs have also declined as churn plummeted.

While backbook pricing continues to be a challenge, new customer pricing continues to firm, which makes its expectation of stable/growing EBITDA for FY2020/21 possible albeit still difficult.

The company expects to launch full fibre products from Openreach imminently, and from CityFibre before the end of the year, with the adoption and eventual economics of these crucial to its medium and long-term future.

Press reports suggest that the restrictions on Huawei equipment may morph into a full ban, with new installations stopping soon and existing equipment to be removed by 2029.

The direct ‘tear-out’ and replacement costs for mobile would be very high at up to £2bn, and there would be significant disruption to 5G roll-outs as operators’ focus moves to replacing what they already have as opposed to pushing into new coverage areas.

Previous rules applied to fixed line broadband networks with as much force as mobile; having to replace Huawei broadband kit would almost certainly delay the move to ‘full fibre’, for no good reason even according to the government’s own report.

 

 

Premium sports subscriptions are the primary sector weakness in the current crisis, and they look set to drive fixed operator revenues down 10% next quarter and Sky’s EBITDA down by 60%.

As lockdown eases, latent broadband demand can be more easily sated, and sports subscriptions will bounce back from the September quarter. A surge in working-from-home is likely to increase both the quantity and quality of home broadband demand, with ‘failover’ mobile backup also likely to be of greater interest.

Openreach will benefit from accelerated demand for full fibre, converged operators will be best-placed to offer mobile backup for broadband, and operators with a strong corporate presence will most easily target demand for home-working products.

TalkTalk grew EBITDA by 10% in 2019/20, an impressive cost cutting driven result, with revenue and gross margin falling as the company struggles with the move to high speed.

The company is cautious on 2020/21, indicating only stable EBITDA citing CV-19 related pressures, although the lockdown has also brought much lower churn and an improving price environment.

The move to full fibre could prove challenging in the longer term, but it also brings an opportunity to rebrand away from a pure price focus, the source of much of TalkTalk’s challenges.

BT’s March quarter appeared to have been going reasonably well until COVID-19 hit, with full year guidance still being broadly met, but the new financial year will be hit harder, with BT Sport, SME and new fibre connection revenue particularly vulnerable.

BT’s full fibre roll-out has been temporarily slowed by COVID-19, but it is accelerating its ambitions regardless increasing both its 12-month (4.0m to 4.5m) and longer term (15m to 20m) coverage targets.

BT is suspending and then rebasing its dividend, in part to cover the above costs. While we regard BT’s fibre investment as a good one, investors and analysts alike have been frustrated by a lack of clear multi-year guidance of the benefits, perhaps as a result of BT not wanting to reveal its negotiating hand to the regulator, government and retail partners.

Demand for telecoms capacity is booming, and the networks can (broadly) cope, with the increase primarily in off-peak demand. However, as the crisis continues, maintaining resilience becomes more challenging.

In the short term, the demand for ample, reliable connectivity coupled with reduced churn will add resilience to operator financials, although there may be significant weak spots especially in business markets.

However, as the crisis goes on, the pressure on capacity and network maintenance may grow, and the impact of the dramatic economic slowdown on consumers and businesses will also put pressure on financials.

At the Enders/Deloitte Media & Telecoms 2020 and Beyond conference the economic and policy importance of telecoms infrastructure was a major theme, particularly in the current climate.

Operators envisage a pricing environment that will continue to be very challenging.

Help is required to secure infrastructure investment, deliver the economic upside from 5G, and level the playing field between sub-sectors.