European mobile service revenue growth recovered to nearly reach positive growth in Q3, improving a whole percentage point over the previous quarter to -0.2%

The main driver of the improvement was continued ‘more for more’ price increases combined with a lack of price wars at the lower end, although the current detente does not feel very stable. Furthermore, the pressure on growth from the general trend towards SIM-only and the consequent lower contract revenue looks unlikely to alter

Revenue growth of around zero as almost achieved this quarter is sufficient for the operators to grow the bottom line, but not to transform their network coverage in the style envisaged by 5G enthusiasts – more substantial growth is needed to cover the costs of such a step-change

UK mobile service revenue growth improved in Q3 to -0.8% from -1.7% in the previous quarter, a welcome turnaround after three quarters of declining growth. Pricing remains firm, data volume growth remains robust, and some of the one-off factors affecting the previous quarter have dropped out

Sky Mobile soft-launched at the end of 2016, and it is taking an aggressive approach with a very deep MVNO technical model with substantial fixed costs, a high advertising budget and ambitious internal subscriber targets. To date the fixed MVNOs have not had a substantial impact on the MNOs, targeting a customer base that is non-core, but with SIM-only on the rise this may change

Looking at recently released network performance statistics, the impact of spectrum disparities is clear, with EE both able to offer faster speeds nationwide due to its large blocks of 4G spectrum, and offer much faster speeds in London. EE also has a lead in geographic coverage, and is planning to push its coverage much further, creating a challenge for the other operators to keep up

BT had a strong quarter for revenue growth, improving to over 1%. This was helped by some temporary factors, but underlying trends look nonetheless strong across the board

Network development looks strong, with pilot pricing announced and development on track, selective FTTP builds gaining momentum, and mobile coverage and speed capabilities accelerating

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the regulatory outlook is as murky as ever, with Openreach’s future structure still not resolved, spectrum auction rules still to-be-decided, and rulings on copper and fibre pricing from April 2017 heavily delayed

European mobile service revenue growth worsened slightly in Q2, dropping to -1.2% after three consecutive quarters at -0.8%. Southern Europe significantly outperformed the North, reversing the regional trend of recent years

EU roaming rate cuts and the increase in SIM-only subscriptions were the two main negative, albeit temporary, factors with the former particularly impacting northern European operators with heavy roaming exposure and the latter more varied in its impact across the EU5

Mobile service revenue growth was thus quite robust given these factors, helped by price firming in a number of markets. Looking forward, while the negative factors are likely to continue in the short-term they will drop out in two years in the case of roaming cuts, and SIM-only, whose impact is mostly profit-neutral to operators, will also reach an equilibrium in due course, and the market's overall resilience is encouraging

UK mobile service revenue growth dipped down in Q2 to -1.7%, with this being driven by some one-off factors, such as MTR and roaming cuts, and some longer terms trends, such as the continued rise in SIM-only

Profitability nonetheless improved at all of the operators, suggesting strong ongoing cost control, and that some of the revenue weakness is caused by factors that do not impact (or even positively impact) the bottom line

Competitive performances were mixed, with EE’s revenue growth improvement contrasting with dips at the other three operators, driven by EE’s strong commercial momentum and it taking the SIM-only and roaming hit earlier than the other operators

BT Group’s revenue growth was roughly unchanged in the quarter at 0.4%, with continued strong consumer growth mitigated by regulated and structural challenges in the rest of the Group

Both broadband and superfast broadband adoption is slowing, but BT is compensating with improving market share for the former, and the prospect of further uplifts from ultrafast for the latter

Regulatory uncertainties are likely to continue to weigh, with the current Openreach debate to be closely followed by the not-exactly-unimportant issue of copper and fibre pricing/regulation from April 2017

European service revenue growth improved in aggregate but with traction noticeably gradual and fragile, and growth remains negative. The future of this fragile recovery is highly uncertain in the wake of a vote to take the UK out of the EU. Most economists have budgeted a slowdown in UK GDP growth, revising 2017 expectations from around 2% to near zero or below. The IMF expect 1.3% growth in 2017 (-1ppt revision) based on “limited” Brexit impact with implied potential for further downward revisions, and it has made more modest cuts to forecasts for other European markets

Mobile service revenues are susceptible to the slowdown but we believe there to be sources of resilience in the revenue stream that would temper the impact including much reduced prepay share of the base, heavily eroded ARPU differential of contract users over prepay and contract tariff value for money, bundling trends, high smartphone penetration (>64%) and data attachment rates (>75%), and 4G coverage and penetration

Following a failed acquisition of O2 in the UK, H3G have turned focus to the proposed JV merger with Wind in Italy where offered remedies are rumoured to have been found acceptable although official confirmation (pending) is only due by 8 September. These include furnishing Iliad as a replacement fourth market entrant with uncertain consequences for the Italian market

UK mobile service revenue growth marginally improved in Q1, to 0.5% from 0.3% in the previous quarter, with the market now having been stuck at a modest but positive growth level for two full years. The improvement was driven by contract ARPU growth improvements, across all of the operators, partially mitigated by a drop in contract subscriber volume growth, perhaps influenced by a weak market for new handsets

Looking forward, the competitive outlook is very uncertain; while EE is looking to increase its network lead, whether it wishes to use this to boost share or pricing is unclear, O2’s future owners may have different strategic priorities to the status quo, H3G will likely take innovative approaches, which are tautologically hard to predict, and Vodafone UK remains Vodafone’s only large European market without a scale position in consumer broadband, a situation it is likely to want to rectify in due course

While before the Brexit referendum, we would have concluded that the outlook for market-wide revenue growth was reasonably positive in spite of this, with ever-strong data volume growth contrasting with constrained spectrum supply, the extra economic uncertainty due to the referendum result puts this at least partly in doubt. The mobile market is likely to be relatively insensitive to macroeconomic conditions given its increasingly essential nature, but there is some sensitivity, particularly if population growth slows or reverses. Our base case assumption is a dip in growth of 1-2ppts in 2017 as a consequence of Brexit

Our survey results highlighted disconnects between operator ambition and consumer perceptions across customer loyalty, network performance and quad play, with noteworthy implications for future competitive performance. O2 in particular benefited from strong branding which yielded network confidence and loyalty above that of top network investors, EE and Vodafone

Convergence prospects continue to look supplier driven with consumers reporting little interest in quad play packages even when offered with significant bundle discounts. Recent advertising campaigns have sought to change consumer perceptions of a dichotomy in mobile and fixed broadband provisioning which, if successful, will be to the benefit of all quad play hopefuls

The mobile usage disparities between 16-24 year olds and 55+ users are stark, for instance near 100% of mobile users aged 16-24 own a smartphone while for those 55+, this falls to just over half. The implications are strong for service providers in all manner of industries who are seeing new (younger) users come to market that bear little resemblance to the traditional users around whom much of the operational model is typically built

BT Group’s revenue growth slipped back to 1.3% in Q4, but this reflected the reversal of various one-off boosts in the previous quarter, with underlying trends still solid across the group, with Consumer and Openreach still the standout performers

We do not think that BT’s approach of keeping the BT and EE consumer brands separate will maximize the cross-selling opportunity, but we consider this opportunity to be modest at best in any case, and therefore not worth the risk of a disruptive integration

On both fixed and mobile, BT is using cost savings to invest in faster speeds, better coverage and improved service to drive competitive advantage and price premia, a very sound strategy in our view