The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year was held virtually, with announcements revolving almost exclusively around the pandemic and addressing changing consumer needs. The evolving use of tech at home was a particular focus for brands as consumers are now demanding more of their homes than ever before.

Following a record 2020, ecommerce was a topic that garnered a lot of attention, with retailers emphasising the importance of a consumer centric 'digital first' strategy, accepting the fact that ecommerce is going to be bigger than it ever has been.

Amid increased tech use at home, moves to ban third-party cookies and impending regulatory changes to data collection in the US, the conversation around data and privacy was more prominent than ever before. First-party data is going to be more valuable, even if tracking restrictions limit what can be done with that data.

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.

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.

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.

Mobile sector returns are low, particularly for smaller-scale operators, with H3G earning less than its cost of capital. Regulatory initiatives, spectrum auctions and 5G look set to worsen this picture as H3G strives to gain viable scale

Back-book pricing is crucial to the returns of fixed challengers. Regulatory intervention is likely to lead to a waterbed effect in the fixed sector and exacerbate challenges in mobile

New entrant business case in full fibre is limited to de facto monopoly opportunities. There is the potential for BT’s returns to increase markedly if it gets full fibre right but new entrants’ inferior economics are unlikely to offer sufficient investor appeal

The combination of 5G, AI, IoT and big data were evangelised at MWC as generating massive scope for the transformation of multiple industries. 

That much is probably true, but it is the tech and consultancy companies who will likely receive the benefits, with connectivity revenue likely to be modest.

For the operators, 5G brings more capacity much needed for hungry smartphone users, and perhaps the opportunity to transform themselves into a leaner operating model.
 

Yet another annual hype cycle in 2018 can’t hide a tepid consumer appetite for all VR platforms and heavy weather for the industry as a whole

The launch of Oculus GO, a standalone device at an attractive price, is a milestone for VR; nevertheless, even Facebook remains worried about reach and the state of the industry

Mobile AR is still a strategic focus for Google and Apple, producing diverse applications instead of just games, but new headsets from Microsoft and Magic Leap which promise advanced MR experiences have no launch dates

Even though Facebook is not a producer of news, 6.5 million UK internet users claim to mainly source their news from the platform. Posts and shares by friends in the user's network, in the context of Facebook's algorithm, determine the order of stories in the personalised News Feed, removing the control of the news agenda that publishers have for their websites

Premium publishers operating a paywall (The Times, The Financial Times) have a lower key approach to Facebook than publishers generating advertising revenue from referral traffic to their websites or from on-platform consumption of Instant Articles. The latter will seek to stimulate social media engagement, optimising stories through attention-grabbing headlines, and installing Facebook’s share and like buttons on their websites

Case studies of the news stories that were prominent on Facebook (measured by likes, comments and shares) in the periods leading up to the Brexit Referendum and General Election 2017 votes respectively demonstrate that newspaper brands (the Express for Brexit, and The Guardian for the General Election) achieved the highest reach on Facebook during these periods, despite being ranked below other news brands (BBC in particular) in terms of traffic to their websites

Through innovations in processing, connectivity and cameras, Apple’s new device lineup dispels fears that the importance of integrated, profitable mobile hardware is in terminal decline

With the broadest range of iPhone price points ever, Apple is confidently balancing between profits and growing the valuable installed base

Apple’s long way to an AR future is now well paved, but a weakness in mapping could prove to be an Achilles heel

Voice, and the smart virtual assistants that power voice interfaces, will be a key transformative force over the next five years

Any business providing content or services via digital means is potentially affected, as these virtual assistants promise a single front end for all digital services, representing an extraordinary concentration of control over discovery, delivery and data

Media businesses will clearly be affected. But there is an opportunity for them right now to influence the assistant providers to their advantage, a window that will not stay open forever