European mobile service revenue growth 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

European mobile growth was essentially zero year-on-year—a significant improvement thanks to annualisation of the pandemic but there is little evidence of the reversal of its negative impacts.

Italy saw the biggest improvement in its underlying trend as the pandemic continued to suppress Iliad’s momentum, while elevated competitive tension in Spain and France ate into their annualisation boost.

Mobility and flight data suggests that Q3 will evidence a bigger boost from renewed travel than in Q2—positive for roaming revenues—but that the improvement in mobility will be weaker than in the June quarter.

Mobile growth dipped again to -3.3% for what we hope is the final time as widespread lockdowns impacted paid-for usage in most countries.

BT and Vodafone joined the other European MNOs in guiding to improving trends in 2021—expecting EBITDA momentum to be 7-10ppts better—slightly ahead of the 5-7ppts for the European operators.

We may even see positive revenue growth next quarter thanks to the simple annualisation of the first lockdown, with the UK the most to gain and Germany and Italy the least. Investment is creeping up too with higher capex guidance and better 5G momentum.

Mobile revenue growth improved slightly to -3% this quarter, primarily thanks to a weakening in the drag from the loss of roaming.

European MNOs are guiding to improving trends in 2021—broadly stable revenues and EBITDA vs declines of 5-7% in 2020. This bodes well for guidance from the UK players around mid-May.

However, the outlook is far from rosy, with Q1 2021 still very challenging ahead of an annualisation of the pandemic drags from the June quarter. Growth prospects remain contingent on the resumption of travel and the economic climate.