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.

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.

On 9 and 10 March 2021, Enders Analysis co-hosted the annual Media & Telecoms 2021 & Beyond conference with Deloitte, and sponsored by Barclays and The Financial Times.

With over 50 speakers from the TMT sectors, including leading executives, policy leaders, and industry experts, the conference focused on the impact of the pandemic on society and the TMT sector, decarbonising work, and the post-pandemic recovery.

Over 1,000 attendees enjoyed our first virtual conference and these are edited transcripts ofthe speakers on Day 1, with keynote speeches and sessions on: sustainability in the TMT sector, news media, telecoms, and tech. Videos of the presentations are also available on the conference website.

The sector rebounded slightly in the quarter to December thanks to a seasonal improvement in the roaming drag, although the partial lockdown tempered the recovery.

We await imminent news on spectrum trading, and there may also be some licence fee reductions as a consequence of the lower prices in the recent 5G auction.

While the sector is likely to continue to struggle into Q1, the outlook is much brighter thereafter thanks to the annualisation and even reversal of some lockdown effects, and to higher price increases from the spring.

Ofcom’s second 5G auction concluded with proceeds half those of historic levels for a number of reasons.

The outcome is positive for all operators with no major surprises. The results imply a much more level playing field for the UK mobile operators than in the past.

A relief for the operators but proceeds for the exchequer will be disappointing, and ALF renegotiation may reduce their revenue steam further.

The wave of deal-making in the European towers sector is driven by cash-strapped telcos seeking a form of sale and leaseback financing.

While the operators are incentivised to provide a medium-term growth trajectory for these towers companies, sustainability of that growth is more questionable, especially as 5G will not require additional base stations.

Cellnex continues to insinuate itself into the UK market with its most recent deal signaling the ultimate unwinding of the MBNL JV. Further UK towers consolidation seems a long way off but could facilitate, or indeed be facilitated by, consolidation at the MNO level.

All of O2’s operational metrics ticked up this quarter with service revenue growth, continued strong net adds and OIBDA growth particular highlights in spite of the end of O2’s Carphone Warehouse relationship.

Next quarter will be hit by the prolonged lockdown and, in spite of an improving picture thereafter, there remain several challenges particularly lower in-contract price rises than peers and some pressure on MVNO revenues post Sky MVNO renegotiation.

The merger with Virgin Media appears on track for a mid-year approval. O2 management will need to work hard to sustain their sharp operational focus at a time when merger integration and strategic question marks risk diverting much of their attention.

Generating cash is top of Vodafone’s agenda right now, and we may be seeing early signs of that driving operational tactics ahead of resolving its leverage crisis through either an IPO of Vantage or a sale of its Iberian assets.

EBITDA growth would really help. Analyst forecasts of +4% for next year are not supported by recent history and a simple bounce-back of roaming revenues should not be assumed.

Q3 results were a mixed bag with the very slight improvement in revenue trends accounted for by easing roaming pressure. Green shoots in German fixed is a highlight, with growth in UK mobile a touch disappointing.

UK mobile operators seem set to offer EU roaming on selected bundles only—a welcome new form of price differentiation.

This move is economically efficient and particularly helpful for MVNOs for whom the erstwhile arrangements were particularly punitive.

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.

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.