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.

Mobile service revenue nudged into growth territory for the first time since the pandemic as a resurgent mobility boost combined with returning roaming revenues.

Q2 looks set to deliver a more convincing growth filip with inflation-linked price rises boosting by 2-5ppts, and a stronger roaming bounce for seasonal reasons.

The picture is not entirely rosy, however, with already discernible B2B headwinds and inevitable consumer bargain-hunting on the horizon.

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.

H3G’s change of tack over the past couple of years appears to be paying off in terms of customer momentum, but the revenue impact is more questionable and it has undoubtedly proven expensive.

Renewed network investment and a reinvigorated brand will help it to gain traction in new market segments but, even with strong execution, the scale gap looks unlikely to be bridged in a timescale acceptable to its backers.

Regulatory appetite for consolidation appears to be low, with policymakers prioritising number of players over network quality. It may be time for network quality to move up the policy agenda.

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 CMA has provisionally found against the sale of CK Hutchison's (CKH's) UK towers rights to Cellnex.

Although the proposed deal increases towers competition relative to the status quo, the CMA appears to be concluding that it would prefer a deal that increases competition to an even greater extent.

The CMA should question whether it has come to the right decision given: the tenuous validity of its arguments; that its view is not shared by those that it is seeking to protect; and the potential significant implications for the mobile industry.

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.