Service revenue declines stabilised at -7% this quarter with a myriad of factors at play: roaming worsening, the end of lockdown taking some pressure off, B2B a mixed bag, and the annualisation of cuts to intra-EU calls.

Ofcom’s second 5G auction will be a focus in January. We expect selective bidding, proceeds of up to £2.7bn, and some wrangling over spectrum trading.

The outlook is better from here as the drag from roaming eases, in-contract price rises step up from the spring, Carphone Warehouse diminishes as a factor in the market, and the prospect of consolidation is still on the table.

COVID, potential consolidation, implications for ALF pricing and non-contiguous blocks have conspired to make the forthcoming second 5G spectrum auction a highly complicated affair.

H3G seems unlikely to bid in a meaningful way for the 5G spectrum (3.6GHz+) but is expected to share the 700MHz band with EE. With the three leading operators likely to split the 3.6GHz+ spectrum between them, proceeds of £1bn-£2.7bn are conceivable.

The non-contiguous nature of the spectrum blocks on offer risks the operators ending up with fragmented holdings in spite of Ofcom’s endeavours to encourage trading—an efficiency loss of up to 20%.

The sector was hit harder than expected by COVID-19 with a 5ppt deterioration in service revenue trends and operators are now sounding a more cautious note.

H3G bucked the trend with improving service revenues thanks to lower exposure to COVID-related impacts and a shift towards indirect distribution—a change in strategy since the end of 2019.

The outlook is better for next quarter as some drags weaken due to the easing of lockdown.  The business market remains particularly vulnerable however as the furlough scheme ends and economic weakness takes hold.

Demand for telecoms capacity is booming, and the networks can (broadly) cope, with the increase primarily in off-peak demand. However, as the crisis continues, maintaining resilience becomes more challenging.

In the short term, the demand for ample, reliable connectivity coupled with reduced churn will add resilience to operator financials, although there may be significant weak spots especially in business markets.

However, as the crisis goes on, the pressure on capacity and network maintenance may grow, and the impact of the dramatic economic slowdown on consumers and businesses will also put pressure on financials.

The UK mobile market suffered its worst performance in six years this quarter as competition heated up and regulation continued to bite

Vodafone’s unlimited tariffs have proven popular, reaching 5% of its contract base in one quarter, helping to drive its outperformance

Some reprieve is in prospect next quarter, before the impact of out-of-contract notifications and automatic discounts from February, although there is the possibility of pre-emptive moves bringing some of the effects forward 
 

Mobile sector returns are low, particularly for smaller-scale operators, with H3G earning less than its cost of capital. Regulatory initiatives, spectrum auctions and 5G look set to worsen this picture as H3G strives to gain viable scale

Back-book pricing is crucial to the returns of fixed challengers. Regulatory intervention is likely to lead to a waterbed effect in the fixed sector and exacerbate challenges in mobile

New entrant business case in full fibre is limited to de facto monopoly opportunities. There is the potential for BT’s returns to increase markedly if it gets full fibre right but new entrants’ inferior economics are unlikely to offer sufficient investor appeal

The UK mobile market posted its slowest growth in more than two years this quarter; just 0.5% service revenue growth although net adds were strong and churn was down

ARPU is under considerable pressure thanks to regulation limiting out-of-bundle spend which will exacerbate as the year progresses

Several other negative developments look set to be layered on the pressures this quarter, including a step-up in competitive intensity as 5G launches –  with H3G’s pricing of unlimited data a sign of a resurgence in its aggression

Google’s Stadia promises the most credible game streaming service yet, but building a subscription bundle of top titles would require an all-out bet in the sector

Google is building its own game studios – to win over others it must overcome a troubled history in gaming, mitigating risks to developer business models and creative integrity

Games are much more technically demanding to stream than video, presenting an advantage to Google, Microsoft and Amazon – and a boost to telecoms network demand, welcomed by operators

Enders Analysis co-hosted the annual Media & Telecoms 2017 & Beyond conference in conjunction with Deloitte, Moelis & Company, Linklaters and LionTree, in London on 2 March 2017.

The day saw over 450 senior attendees come together to listen to 30 leaders and senior executives of some of the most creative and innovative businesses in the media and telecoms sector, and was chaired by David Abraham.

This report provides edited transcripts of the presentations and panels, and you will find accompanying slides for some of the presentations here.

Videos of the presentations are available on the conference website.