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.
 

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 plunge in the UK economy in Q2 2020 due to the pandemic-induced lockdown reduced advertising expenditure by close to one-third, recovering in Q3.

Impaired mobility of consumers dramatically reduced expenditure on print and out-of-home media, which are reliant on footfall, alongside cinema, whose theatres have been shuttered on and off all year.

The paradigm shift in consumer expenditure to ecommerce in 2020, which will moderate in 2021 as mobility partly returns, boosted online display while search was flat due to impeded travel plans.

ByteDance is rushing to sell a 20% stake in TikTok Global to Oracle and Walmart at an enterprise value of $60 billion. TikTok otherwise faces a ban in the US on 12 November, subject to legal challenges.

The sale hinges on ByteDance obtaining approval from China to export TikTok’s core technologies. China updated its export control rules to include algorithms (and AI), entrenching a tech cold war with the West.

TikTok has confounded regulatory woes in India and the US, and renewed competition from US tech, to post dizzying user growth in every major internet region where it is available, casting off its image as a niche youth product and entering the mainstream.

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.

Microsoft hopes to buy TikTok from Chinese owner ByteDance before President Trump’s Executive Order halts transactions with the company in mid-September. Twitter is now in the game, but is unlikely to prevail

Worth tens of billions, TikTok would be the biggest acquisition in Microsoft’s history. This hot new digital platform has hundreds of millions of users and an ad business that could overtake Snapchat’s. Extracting the technology from ByteDance may take years

Selling TikTok to shake off anti-Chinese scrutiny would signal ByteDance’s abrupt exit from the digital world stage with a fabulous return on its investment, while letting TikTok users continue to enjoy the service. However, losing TikTok sinks the global growth story that ByteDance was lining up for its anticipated IPO

BT’s March quarter appeared to have been going reasonably well until COVID-19 hit, with full year guidance still being broadly met, but the new financial year will be hit harder, with BT Sport, SME and new fibre connection revenue particularly vulnerable.

BT’s full fibre roll-out has been temporarily slowed by COVID-19, but it is accelerating its ambitions regardless increasing both its 12-month (4.0m to 4.5m) and longer term (15m to 20m) coverage targets.

BT is suspending and then rebasing its dividend, in part to cover the above costs. While we regard BT’s fibre investment as a good one, investors and analysts alike have been frustrated by a lack of clear multi-year guidance of the benefits, perhaps as a result of BT not wanting to reveal its negotiating hand to the regulator, government and retail partners.

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.