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.

On 12 May 2022, Enders Analysis co-hosted the annual Media and Telecoms 2022 & Beyond conference with Deloitte, sponsored by Barclays, Financial Times, Meta, and Deloitte Legal

With up to 500 attendees and over 40 speakers from the TMT sectors, including leading executives, policy leaders, and industry experts, the conference focused on regulation, infrastructure, and how new technologies will impact the future of the sector 

These are edited transcripts of Sessions 7 and 8 covering: UK mobile and the opportunities and challenges of infrastructure. Videos of the presentations are also available on the conference website

Vodafone attributed its muted outlook for the coming year to macroeconomic headwinds but it has more to do with the German cable business, which is now in decline rather than being the growth engine that it was billed to be when acquired.

Value-accretive deals remain on the agenda but management are rightly reluctant to appear desperate—a difficult balancing act with the risk of missing out on further opportunities.

Substantial fibre investment in Germany looks inevitable, as does sustained competitive pressure there. Even if the former is off balance sheet, the combination will dampen hopes of growth and a progressive dividend.

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.

Sky continued to grow its UK revenue thanks to price rises, mobile customer additions, and a rebound from lost hospitality business in early 2021, but this was still outweighed by the recent reset of its Italian operation.

Aggregation remains a core focus, with Paramount+, and Magenta Sport in Germany, added to Sky’s bundles, while fibre rollout will intensify with the launch of Sky Stream puck as a standalone device later this year.

Declining buying power raises uncertainty over consumer behaviour: in previous recessions, pay-TV performed well, but today subscribers have more video options than ever before.

While VMO2’s Q1 results were strong, its subscriber additions were weak, particularly on the broadband side, with a seemingly somewhat deliberate go-slow as the year began, but cost-of-living crisis and fibre overbuild may also be factors.

We see considerable scope to ramp up commercial aggression from here given the sizeable tailwinds from price increases, synergy benefits and the migration of the Virgin Mobile MVNO from Vodafone.

We remain sceptical of VMO2’s further network extension ambitions and hope that no news on securing a financial partner is good news, increasing the odds of it pursuing the less risky strategy of expanding its footprint through wholesale.

Whilst we remain sceptical of the churn reduction benefits of fixed/mobile convergence, the pandemic and a more astute approach from the operators is enhancing the case for it in the UK.

Creating the impression of a giveaway whilst minimizing the effective discount is key, as is extracting any loyalty and cost benefits.

Even if well executed, any upsides are likely to be modest. Operators are right to keep discounts to a minimum and to avoid M&A premia predicated on fixed/mobile convergence synergies.

TalkTalk is reportedly for sale, with Vodafone and Sky the obvious potential buyers, and a fairly aggressive price requested.

TalkTalk would bring synergies and enhanced market position to either Vodafone or Sky, but also integration and other issues.

Consolidation may bring a degree of market calming, although the more major battles would remain between the infrastructure-based players BT/Openreach, VMO2, and the altnets.

Market revenue growth accelerated to just under 2% in Q4, with broadband growth holding up despite the ending of most pandemic restrictions.

Backbook pricing pressure should continue to retreat in 2022, and ultrafast speed premia should also bolster ARPU as FTTP roll-outs accelerate.

The price increases due in April will further support growth, with BT in particular to benefit, and all will have to be wary of customer backlash.

VMO2 finished 2021 with muted revenue and EBITDA growth, but stronger subscriber progress, with underlying ARPUs a touch weak but not totally out-of-line with industry trends.

The company has a (justifiably) high level of confidence that this can be turned around in 2022, with a significant boost from price rises, the waning of some temporary effects and backed up by solid subscriber dynamics.

Expecting to not be impacted at all by Openreach’s FTTP roll-out into its current and prospective footprint would however be too confident, and for this reason we remain sceptical of VMO2’s accelerated roll-out ambitions.