European mobile service revenue was positive for the first time in five years this quarter as a resurgent mobility boost combined with the return of roaming revenues.

Q2 is set to be a mixed bag, with inflation-plus price increases expected in the UK, an elevated boost from the roaming recovery, but also some weakness in the B2B market.

We are also seeing the early impact from end-of-contract notification rules, particularly in Germany, and we expect ARPU pressure and churn to pick up elsewhere as the impact becomes more widespread.

While VMO2’s Q1 results were strong, its subscriber additions were weak, particularly on the broadband side, with a seemingly somewhat deliberate go-slow as the year began, but cost-of-living crisis and fibre overbuild may also be factors.

We see considerable scope to ramp up commercial aggression from here given the sizeable tailwinds from price increases, synergy benefits and the migration of the Virgin Mobile MVNO from Vodafone.

We remain sceptical of VMO2’s further network extension ambitions and hope that no news on securing a financial partner is good news, increasing the odds of it pursuing the less risky strategy of expanding its footprint through wholesale.

Whilst we remain sceptical of the churn reduction benefits of fixed/mobile convergence, the pandemic and a more astute approach from the operators is enhancing the case for it in the UK.

Creating the impression of a giveaway whilst minimizing the effective discount is key, as is extracting any loyalty and cost benefits.

Even if well executed, any upsides are likely to be modest. Operators are right to keep discounts to a minimum and to avoid M&A premia predicated on fixed/mobile convergence synergies.

European mobile revenue growth was zero for the third successive quarter with better mobility but less roaming upside, some B2B weakness, and stronger competitive intensity in the Italian and Spanish markets

Q1 should evidence some similar trends but the impact of out-of-contract notifications will begin to emerge and roaming looks set to become a significant boost from Q2

Consolidation fever continues to dominate the headlines though this is set against a backdrop of considerable uncertainty regarding regulatory approval

Mobile service revenue growth improved slightly to -1.7% in Q4 as a higher mobility boost outweighed drags from continuing B2B weakness and MTR cuts.

Q1 prospects look mixed but the real turning point remains Q2 when the impact of inflation-linked price rises looks set to boost growth by 2-5ppts—nudging sector growth into positive territory for the first time since 2018.

Ofcom’s market review did not outline a change of stance on investment and consolidation in our view, but its inclination to have fewer consumer-focused initiatives is a welcome development.

The UK mobile operators are increasingly vocal about their concerns regarding the tech giants, namely Apple and Google, encroaching on the mobile connectivity market.

eSIMs enhance the case for the tech giants launching their own MVNOs (such as Google Fi in the US) or, perhaps more realistically and concerningly, becoming gatekeepers to mobile airtime subscriptions.

Many things would need to line up for the tech giants to effect this and the MNOs need to stand as one to ensure that they are not successful. Policy makers should be equally reticent.

VMO2 finished 2021 with muted revenue and EBITDA growth, but stronger subscriber progress, with underlying ARPUs a touch weak but not totally out-of-line with industry trends.

The company has a (justifiably) high level of confidence that this can be turned around in 2022, with a significant boost from price rises, the waning of some temporary effects and backed up by solid subscriber dynamics.

Expecting to not be impacted at all by Openreach’s FTTP roll-out into its current and prospective footprint would however be too confident, and for this reason we remain sceptical of VMO2’s accelerated roll-out ambitions.

Higher overall inflation, together with a bigger mark-up than in previous years for some, is implying significant in-contract price increases for the UK telecoms operators—an average of 7.7% for the mobile operators.

Although we may see a 5-6% short-term boost to mobile service revenue growth from these price increases, new-customer pricing remains crucial and could erode the boost from these in-contract rises entirely.

We have been surprised by Ofcom’s interventions to discourage these price increases. The industry needs all the help it can get to fund next generation 5G and full fibre networks, and these in-contract price increases are no guarantee that prices and revenues overall will start to rise.

The UK net neutrality rules are up for review; as usual, the operators are pressuring for relaxation, and there are strong arguments that the competitiveness of UK telecoms markets make such rules innovation-quashing with no consumer benefit.

The chances of mainstream video content providers producing a windfall for telcos are slim, but there are a host of more intensely commercial content providers which have far greater potential to pay extra money for higher quality content delivery.

Future services such as virtual and augmented reality will stretch even FTTP/5G networks; allowing the telcos to develop custom business models to facilitate their delivery may well speed up the development and implementation of the metaverse in the UK.

European mobile revenue growth was flat again this quarter as a larger boost from annualising the roaming drag was outweighed by B2B weakness, a waning mobility boost and the unwind of pandemic upsides.

Italy saw the biggest improvement in its underlying trend as Iliad struggled to regain momentum, while competitive tension remains elevated in Spain and France.

Q4 looks mixed before 2022 kicks off with some market-specific positives for the UK, but the other European countries will finally face the impact of end-of-contract notifications.