The market looked superficially healthy in Q1, with revenue and broadband volume growth both maintained at 2%.

However, net adds trends suggest that consumers are becoming more bargain seeking, and prices have become more competitive into Q2.

The April price increases will support growth in the short term, but this boost may not last long if the cost-of-living crisis persists.

BT’s Q4 was mixed in the detail, with consumer broadband volumes weakening but FTTP roll-out and adoption surging, with performance at the Group level solid enough.

The April price increase has reportedly landed well, strongly supporting BT’s guidance for revenue and EBITDA growth in 2022/23 with no other improvements required.

The macroeconomic environment continues to weaken, affecting BT and its premium brands in a number of ways, but it appears to have enough room in its guidance to weather this storm.

The UK government is on the cusp of introducing legislation that will force online platforms to monitor and mitigate the presence and spread of harmful and illegal content, in a regulatory first for big tech.

Affected companies should take note: they will need to prepare for a higher level of transparency and communication with regulators, and larger service providers will require expanded moderation, user verification and research capabilities.

Users should be protected as platforms balance complex competing duties. News publisher content has a carveout, but publishers may experience butterfly effects as the online environment is reshaped.

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.

Higher overall inflation, together with a bigger mark-up than in previous years for some, is implying significant in-contract price increases for the UK telecoms operators—an average of 7.7% for the mobile operators.

Although we may see a 5-6% short-term boost to mobile service revenue growth from these price increases, new-customer pricing remains crucial and could erode the boost from these in-contract rises entirely.

We have been surprised by Ofcom’s interventions to discourage these price increases. The industry needs all the help it can get to fund next generation 5G and full fibre networks, and these in-contract price increases are no guarantee that prices and revenues overall will start to rise.

The boost from annualising the COVID-19 hit dissipated this quarter with service revenues flat-lining at –2.5%. The year-on-year mobility boost weakened and pandemic upsides of lower churn, cost savings and B2B demand unwound.

Q4 looks mixed with an improving year-on-year mobility boost but further unwinding of some pandemic upsides. Spring 2022 has the potential to be the long-awaited panacea with price rises of up to 8% and the prospect of renewed roaming revenues.

The operators continue to seek sources of market repair through price rises (to compensate for regulatory intervention elsewhere) and consolidation—but with little visible support from policymakers as yet.

Market revenue growth remained positive in Q3 despite much of the lockdown bounceback dropping out, and is at a significantly higher level than pre-pandemic.

The backbook pricing pressure that has plagued the operators over the last 18 months appears to be finally starting to drop away, allowing strong demand and firm pricing to feed through.

The prospects for next year are also very positive, with firm price increases expected from April, ultrafast upgrades growing in significance, and continued annualisation of backbook issues.

Market revenue growth improved to -1.4% in Q1 2021, a partial recovery being better than at any point in 2020, but still worse than at any point in 2019.

Next quarter the sports channel suspensions will lap out, driving strong (but temporary) year-on-year growth.

Longer-term revenue growth recovery will need backbook pricing pressure relief, which will start in Q2, and demand for ultrafast broadband.

Spectrum auction assignment stages are normally fairly dull and routine, but due to the two-part nature of the 5G auctions, and the critical importance of proximity and contiguity, this is not the case with 5G.

The assignments won, combined with the Vodafone/O2 deal, ensures that all the operators enjoy at least 80MHz of (essential) proximity, but only O2 gets (nice-to-have) contiguity.

Further swaps could ensure contiguity for all, but this requires H3G to co-operate, which is in its absolute, but not relative, best interests.

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.