European mobile service revenue 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.

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

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.

Sky’s revenue was up 15% in Q2, back to pre-COVID levels despite some lingering pandemic effects such as most pubs and clubs remaining closed. EBITDA fell by a third, driven by higher costs from sports rights, since very few live sports events took place in Q2 2020.

The impact of “resetting” football rights is already evident in Germany and Italy, with 248k net customer losses across the group despite growth in the UK. However, Sky will make substantial savings, and we expect this will more than offset lost revenues.

Meanwhile, Sky continues to strike deals with other content providers, solidifying its position as the leading household entertainment gatekeeper. In time, apps for NBCU’s Peacock, ViacomCBS’ Paramount+, ITV Hub, and, in Germany, RTL TV Now and DAZN, will all be aggregated within Sky Q.

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.

Europe’s larger MNOs are falling over each other to demonstrate support for OpenRAN, which has become a primarily operator-driven standards initiative, with governments also firmly behind it.

This is driven by a desire to improve equipment interoperability from the current de facto monolithic standards, improve supplier diversity, and ultimately drive down cost.

While some movement towards interoperability is perhaps overdue, OpenRAN is not a panacea, and some trade-offs between price, performance, supplier diversity and reliability have to be accepted.

Mobile growth improved very marginally to -3.6% this quarter as roaming revenues were harder hit and competitive intensity bounced back, but usage recovered from the lockdowns in Q2 and cuts to intra-EU calls were annualised.

Italy’s fortunes took a turn for the worse as roaming hit particularly hard and Iliad resurged. After a spate of downgrades to the outlook last quarter, there were some tentative upgrades in Q3 although the tone remains cautious.

The diminished drag from roaming is the primary positive driver from here. Although lockdowns of some degree are in place in Q4, their impact will be less severe than those in Q2.
 

There are some reasons to be cheerful about Vodafone right now—small nuggets of encouragement in its H1 results and the prospect of some market repair in the UK. Annual in-contract price rises of CPI + 3.9% across the UK mobile sector could provide very valuable support.

German fixed momentum is a low-light of its H1 results with growth of just 0.6% in spite of heightened broadband demand and in contrast to the 5% growth rate of the Liberty Global assets at time of acquisition.

The IPO of Vodafone’s towers business remains imperative to maintaining its leverage targets and dividend. We estimate that it will need to sell at least 30% of equity and realise a hefty multiple in challenging market conditions.