Telcos are pressing the EU to force big tech to make a ‘fair contribution’ to their network costs, although this has drawn opposition from telecoms regulators, who rightly fear risks to the wider ecosystem

There are valid concerns to address however, with content providers not currently incentivised to deliver traffic efficiently, and telcos constrained by net neutrality rules from doing anything about it, resulting in unnecessary costs and service degradation

However, there may be better ways to address these, through reforming the implementation of existing rules to encourage more efficient content delivery, and allowing the telcos to provide enhanced delivery routes of their own, with Ofcom’s approach in the UK a step in this direction, but perhaps not a step far enough

Service revenue growth was up just 0.1ppts to 2.0% this quarter, as price rises in the UK and the peak of the roaming boost offset weakness elsewhere.

Price increases to combat inflationary cost pressures are gathering momentum—a potential revenue cushion as roaming tailwinds diminish and challenging economic conditions weigh.

Vodafone is battling strategic issues in most of its main markets—significant change in strategy will be required from the new leadership.
 

Mobile service revenue growth rose to +6%—its highest level in over a decade as price increases fed through and roaming picked up.

However, there were early signs of a worsening economic environment: handset revenues and contract volumes were subdued and churn popped up for most operators.

Growth may soften from here as the roaming boost subsides and economic conditions worsen, but price rises of up to 15% in the spring could provide more resilience if fully implemented.

Market revenue growth of 2% in Q3 was slightly lower than the previous quarter, but remained firmly positive at least.

The dual impacts of slowing broadband volume growth and consumer price sensitivity will likely hit volumes and ARPU even harder over the tough winter to come.

Inflation-linked price increases will give some operators a boost next year, but their very high levels (c.15%) will be hard to manage during a cost-of-living squeeze.

Vodafone’s downgraded guidance is due to its woes in Germany rather than the economy. There is some limited reassurance that this will turnaround soon.

It remains challenging for Vodafone to achieve its revised FY guidance with a 7ppt improvement in underlying EBITDA growth required to get there.

Leverage and cash-calls are much improved, and the dividend looks assured, but the Vantage and German deals mean escalating pressures on EBITDA.

Vodafone is in the midst of a flurry of M&A, likely driven by its share price, which is at a 30-year-low, and stubbornly high leverage as an economic crisis looms.

While the mooted Vodafone/Three merger has the potential to add meaningful shareholder value, the German and Vantage deals are designed to ease Vodafone’s ongoing leverage issue—with debt relief up front paid for with future EBITDA.

Getting leverage under control will be helpful, but the focus should continue to be Vodafone’s operational performance, particularly in Germany, and its ability to deliver EBITDA promises in challenging circumstances.

Whether to allow a Vodafone/H3G merger is essentially a trade-off between range of consumer choice and costs of network duplication. With the need for the former diminishing and the latter increasing, the case for approval is strengthened.

H3G is in a negative spiral of small scale, low investment, and low returns. A merger would allow it to form part of a more credible competitor with a transformed returns profile—without rising prices or reduced industry investment levels.

The CMA’s aversion to mergers has been very stringent of late—an approach that risks deterring investment and compromising competitiveness. Consolidation in UK mobile is unlikely to happen without a change of mindset.

European mobile service revenue growth increased by 1ppt to +1.6% this quarter, with this improvement largely driven by higher-than-inflation price increases in the UK.

The outlook for Q3 is mixed with an increased roaming boost expected, but the B2B sector will remain challenging and the impact of the rollout of out-of-contract notifications in EU countries will mount.

There are signs of some upward pricing movement beyond the UK, particularly in Spain as the operators seek to cushion the blow of rising costs and inevitable economic pressure.

Mobile service revenue growth rose to its highest level in over ten years (+4.5%) as a result of the operators’ higher-than-inflation price rises.

BT/EE fared best with broadly-applied, sizeable increases and robust churn while H3G’s more modest increases and later timing led to just a minor pickup in its service revenue growth—in spite of continued strong performance on the subscriber side.

There are some early signs of an increase in consumer bargain-hunting and some payment challenges, with B2B robust for now but with an increasingly rocky outlook.

Growth is crucial for Vodafone’s leverage but remains elusive and the company’s ambition to grow European revenues this year looks challenging

Exacerbating revenue pressure in Germany and the loss of the VMO2 MVNO will weigh heavily in H2 and cost inflation will eat into any margin gains

Deal-making is not yet materialising with considerable question marks remaining over regulatory approval for mobile consolidation, a necessarily more open mind on action on Vantage, and plans to shift fibre investment off balance sheet. Vodafone promises more concrete developments with H1 results