The US Department of Justice antitrust case against Google alleges an illegal monopoly in search and search advertising in their home and largest market.

The lawsuit targets Google's control of the Android mobile operating system and exclusive revenue share agreement with Apple, which the EU prohibited in 2018, a decision that Google has appealed.

Alongside antitrust enforcement, legislative initiatives in the EU and UK will create an ex ante antitrust framework for relations between “gatekeeper” platforms and their users and customers, which the US Congress has yet to emulate.

There are some reasons to be cheerful about Vodafone right now—small nuggets of encouragement in its H1 results and the prospect of some market repair in the UK. Annual in-contract price rises of CPI + 3.9% across the UK mobile sector could provide very valuable support.

German fixed momentum is a low-light of its H1 results with growth of just 0.6% in spite of heightened broadband demand and in contrast to the 5% growth rate of the Liberty Global assets at time of acquisition.

The IPO of Vodafone’s towers business remains imperative to maintaining its leverage targets and dividend. We estimate that it will need to sell at least 30% of equity and realise a hefty multiple in challenging market conditions.

On 1 October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced $1 billion for worldwide news publisher partnerships for a novel News Showcase product, helping them to distribute their content to a new audience.

It is an important milestone: for the first time Google will pay publishers to curate content in the Google News app (initially), and to provide unpaywalled access to articles on publishers’ websites that users can click through to.

In so doing, Google is defusing the simmering conflict with publishers in major markets, and showing policy-makers its willingness to collaborate with a news industry facing existential threats.

 

Virgin Media’s lockdown subscriber surge continued into Q3, as working-from-home highlights the importance of the faster speeds its network can offer.

ARPU is more challenged, and will get worse next quarter given its forgone price rise, but price rises are back in fashion in the industry, so this problem is likely to prove temporary.

Openreach’s full fibre remains a medium-term threat, but the company is rightly taking advantage while its network superiority remains, with momentum firmly in its favour for now.

BT’s revenue growth remained very suppressed in the September quarter at -7%, with a limited COVID-19 recovery chocked off by seasonal roaming effects and regulator-inspired pricing forbearance.

EBITDA growth did improve to -3% from -7% last quarter, mainly due to short-term cost actions and the early impact of its longer-term cost program, and the company has upgraded its short- and longer-term EBITDA targets.

The company is also optimistic on a longer-term return to underlying revenue growth, helped by a return to regular existing customer price increases and the impact of full fibre, but not until 2023, with a few bumps in the road before then.

There was just a slight deterioration in trends at O2 this quarter as the COVID drag was fairly constant in total, although varied in mix. However, the iPhone launch in Q4 rather than Q3 was almost as detrimental to total revenue growth which will reverse next quarter.

Strong net adds were a highlight, particularly so as an indicator that the O2 shops and website can compensate for the loss of Carphone Warehouse, and encouraging that O2 continues to prioritise growth .

The outlook is better from here as the roaming drag will lessen, Q4 is likely to deliver better net adds and there appears to be a more favourable political perspective for the sector which may expedite approval of the Virgin Media merger and possibly even consolidation in the mobile sector.

It is widely expected that Apple will announce the first 5G iPhone at its event on 13 October, over a year after the UK launch of 5G networks, in contrast to Apple’s early start and key role in the launch of 4G

While the UK operators were early to launch 5G, the roll-out has thus far progressed slower than 4G did

The operator focus on 5G continues to be capacity as opposed to services, with 5G offering eye-watering speeds but not enabling any mass-market consumer services that 4G is not perfectly capable of

 

With the European Commission’s decision to block the H3G/O2 merger annulled and with new H3G management sounding a very pro-consolidation tone, the prospect of mobile operators going from four to three in the UK seems to be back on the cards.

Both H3G/Vodafone and H3G/O2/Virgin Media combinations seem possible although each has its own complexity—existing network sharing arrangements being one of them.

With 5G delays and mounting costs following the decision to ban Huawei, consolidation is increasingly feeling like the most viable option for H3G whose returns are already too low and falling rapidly.