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.

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 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 service revenue growth declined this quarter to 0.3%, likely due in large part to the increased negative impact from the European roaming surcharge cuts, which we estimate at around 0.5-1.0ppts for Europe as a whole

The continued growth was supported by continued ‘more-for-more’ price increases coupled with strong data volume growth. Partially countering this, there has been a step up in competition at the low end in some markets, often driven by the smaller operators

Looking forward, the negative EU roaming impact is likely to decline from next quarter given the end of the summer holiday season, and on balance we would expect positive price increase trends to overcome negative low end competitive trends, at least in the short term. This might change in 2018, as Iliad launches in Italy, and recently consolidated operators become more of a threat

European mobile service revenue growth witnessed a rare growth spike this quarter, rising to 0.5%, likely due in large part to the reduced impact this quarter from the European roaming cut regulation, but also helped by a slight softening of MTR cuts and continued ‘more-for-more’ price increases

This roaming regulation holiday will end next quarter and the full impact of ‘free roaming’ will be felt, thus the spike in mobile service revenue growth is likely to more-than-reverse

What is likely to prove lasting is the zero-rated data offers introduced in several markets in Q2, which we expect to see more of given their reported success at improving ARPUs

Across Europe, markets are becoming more competitive. Incumbent pay-TV paltforms (e.g. Sky or Canal+) face increasing threats from both internet-based services (e.g. Netflix and Amazon), and telecoms operators

Telecoms providers are proving the most potent challengers as they enter the premium football rights market to create attractive triple and quad play bundles – examples include BT, SFR and Telefónica. The latter is now the main pay-TV operator in Spain whereas France’s Canal+ has entered into a strategic alliance with Orange

Across the top five markets (UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy), Sky remains the leading operator with an estimated 21.5m video subscribers, twice as many as Netflix

 

European mobile service revenue growth remained stuck at zero in Q1, with a heightened impact from the mobile termination rate cuts in Germany and price promotional activity in southern Europe mitigating improving markets in the UK and France

‘More-for-more’ price rises continued both during the quarter and after, and appear to be more widespread than the 2016 increases. This should be driving revenue growth at a healthier rate than zero, and may well do as out-of-bundle revenue declines fade away in significance and regulated MTR and roaming cuts annualise out

On the downside, there remain clear disruptive threats from consolidation in Italy, the potential for improved non-incumbent competitor performance in Germany and Spain, and the potential for further consolidation, with its distinctly mixed blessings for competitors, in the UK and France

European mobile service revenue growth was unchanged in Q4 on the previous quarter at -0.1%, tantalisingly close to growth but just held back by renewed mobile termination rate cuts in Germany

‘More-for-more’ tariff changes are becoming increasingly commonplace, as operators increase data bundle sizes to allow for volume demand growth, but nudge up pricing as partial compensation.  This has not yet translated into positive revenue growth across Europe as a whole, but increasingly looks like it will do, with a number of moves made in early 2017

The quarter saw completion of two M&A deals in Spain and Italy with MasMovil completing its acquisition of Yoigo, and H3G Wind completing their joint venture to form Wind Tre. While the former is unlikely to alter the market dynamics much, the latter, resulting in the entry of Iliad in Italy, has the potential to disrupt the pricing dynamic in that market, although ultimately it will be limited by Iliad’s initial MVNO economics and dearth of spectrum