BT Consumer’s move to the EE brand is a gradual one, with an EE re-launch due next year set to accelerate this, although the BT and Plusnet brands will not be withdrawn in a hurry.

The company is hoping that the new converged EE will drive new revenue streams, a challenging task, but one that it is approaching with realism, and building on previous success.

BT confirmed that the inflation-plus price rise will be applied next year, along with a hope-to-be-sustained increase in front book pricing too. The cost-of-living crisis is putting pressure on ARPU, with FTTP likely to only partially compensate.

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.

BT Group’s revenue growth surged in Q1 to 1%, the first time it has been positive in five years, with a stronger than expected boost from the April price rises partially offset by the Virgin Mobile MVNO loss.

EBITDA growth, however, actually dipped to 2%, with little operating leverage due to cost pressures, although the company is still very confident in its full year EBITDA guidance (which implies 4% growth).

BT is far from immune to macroeconomic pressures, with pressure on costs, corporate revenue and signs of a sharp dip in broadband market growth, but it is well placed to deal with them given strong growth at Consumer and Openreach.

With the cost-of-living crisis expected to worsen over the coming months, the telecoms operators must walk a fine line—support customers but protect their financial performance in the face of a likely recession and rising costs.

We are likely to see weakness on the B2B side and consumers will look for ways to reduce out-of-bundle spend, seek retention discounts and spin down to lower speed tiers and data bundles, but we expect that dropping services completely will hold limited appeal.

Proactive retention activity and promotional pricing is likely to pay off more than slashing headline prices, and will help to avoid a damaging price war—a far bigger risk to their revenues than spin-down.

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.