Press reports that Sky is in advanced talks to co-invest in Virgin Media O2’s upgrade of its cable network to full fibre are something of a surprise, with a host of issues for both parties to carefully consider

The muted deal would be somewhat negative for BT (although limited by Sky’s c.15% market share in VMO2 areas and regulatory protections/upsides). It is, however, a stark reminder of the precarious economics of alternative networks such as CityFibre

Whether this makes VMO2 more likely to extend its network further is a more critical issue, certainly for BT

 

Free roaming in several countries around the world was an appealing differentiator for H3G when it launched Go Roam in 2013. Soaring usage and the imperative to establish a sustainable business model have conspired to bring an end to this.

The pricing is similar to BT/EE and Vodafone plans for the EU, but the timing and detail is different, and a package will continue to be available for the other worldwide countries on the 'Go Roam Around the World' plan.

The reintroduction of EU roaming fees is somewhat inevitable as current arrangements leave operators exposed to up to €75 of monthly wholesale charges, and even more as legacy EU wholesale deals expire.

The two-part nature of the UK 5G auctions has thrown up various issues, with non-contiguous spectrum blocks proving the most challenging to resolve.

The Annual Licence Fees (ALFs) attached to H3G’s spectrum are the crucial stumbling block in spectrum trading negotiations, creating a level of uncertainty which is not conducive to striking a sensible deal.

Ofcom has a crucial role to play in securing an efficient outcome and time is very much of the essence.

The bounceback from COVID is yet to be evidenced in UK mobile as there was no improvement in service revenue trends this quarter beyond the simple annualisation of the pandemic hit.

More mobility and international travel will be crucial tailwinds. Q3 travel rates are only slightly higher than a year ago, limiting the near-term upside. Some pandemic boosts such as lower churn and higher B2B demand will also unwind somewhat.

Spring 2022 looks set to be a turning point for the sector with price increases of 6-7% in the offing on the basis of recent inflation rates, and the potential for renewed roaming revenues, even from Europe.

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.

VMO2’s inaugural results reinforced the company’s focus on profitability with EBITDA growth of 6% and record margins. Flat revenues year-on-year benefited from the annualisation of the COVID-19 hit but incorporated little by way of rebound.

Much remains to be seen in terms of strategy but indications thus far are reassuring with B2B a clear focus for revenue growth, and the benefits of direct distribution feeding through to profitability.

The company’s decision to build an overlay full fibre network is a bold, but smart, move—allaying justified obsolescence fears about its network, enhancing strategic flexibility, and reducing its cost base.

Post Brexit, Vodafone has followed EE's lead in reintroducing roaming fees for some mobile packages. We expect Virgin Media O2 and the MVNOs to follow suit, with H3G's approach more uncertain.

This move is somewhat inevitable as current arrangements leave operators exposed to up to €75 of monthly wholesale charges, and even more as legacy EU wholesale deals expire.

We don't envisage a return to the days of super-normal returns from roaming, but it is nonetheless conducive to much-needed price inflation in the sector.

BT’s revenue growth bounced back by 3ppts in Q1, and EBITDA growth surged into positive territory for the first time since 2018, enjoying significant bounceback as it lapped the start of the pandemic.

Some aspects of the bounce are temporary, but some business lines are yet to recover at all, and there are positive signs of an underlying return to sustainable growth across much of BT.

Openreach’s momentum continues to grow with much more to come, and VMO2’s switch to full fibre reduces a long-term upside but introduces no significant new downside in our view.

Vodafone’s growth this quarter was a touch disappointing; the annualistion of the COVID hit was a clear boost but no evidence of any tailwinds. The 1.1% growth in the European markets should be the real focus for investors.

We see some evidence of positive initiatives from Vodafone such as its new EVO tariffs in the UK but it still has much to prove on operating momentum, especially in Germany.

There are signs that Vodafone is slow-pedalling in some markets and with demanding EBITDA targets and with leverage still finely balanced, we expect this focus on profitability to continue. The UK may be a special case.