Many telcos are surprisingly advanced in exploring GenAI opportunities, mainly in gleaning cost efficiencies in managing their complex systems, but it may also provide a revenue boost.

European telco CEOs made a heartfelt—if not entirely convincing—plea for regulatory/policy help via a ‘new deal’ to help support future investment, highlighting a genuine lack of price/investment balance in European telecoms.

The most convincing specific regulatory/policy solution is in-market consolidation, with other steps either less effective, or unlikely to happen, but a general shift in regulatory attitude could prove helpful in many small ways.

VMO2 ended 2023 with strong ARPU and EBITDA growth, meeting its (revised) guidance for the full year, but saw receding subscriber momentum across both fixed and mobile.

2024 will be much tougher across the industry and for VMO2 in particular, with its revenue expected to be flat at best, and waning boosts from price rises and synergies coupled with a series of technical factors shrinking EBITDA.

The company has promised new commercial initiatives in 2024, and thereafter we see strong potential in it maximizing the use of its network and retail arms via breaking the long-standing lock between them, although the formation of NetCo is neither a necessary nor sufficient step for this.

There are various reasons why the mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) have been adding many more subscribers than the mobile network owners over the past couple of years, including the cost-of-living crisis, and the expansion in their addressable market from the shift to online.

MVNOs' bargaining power to secure favourable rates has also improved sharply, with Lyca Mobile's move to the EE network indicative of their strengthened hand.

While some factors in their favour may wane over time, the prospective Vodafone/Three merger would be a marked positive, with the imperative on the operators to fill at least 25-50% additional capacity.

Vodafone’s Q3 results were slightly disappointing following the green shoots of Q2, with growth in Germany slipping back again, albeit some of it already flagged.

It is difficult to imagine the full year results event being a positive catalyst with the likelihood of a dividend cut, a recognition of the hard-currency reality of the financials, and a still challenging outlook for FY 2024/25.

Deal-making is a positive counter with a highly accretive deal still in the offing in Italy, and the prospect of execution in Spain and the UK. Various inorganic deals with 1&1, Microsoft and Accenture will also be helpful, although none of them as valuable as an improvement in the core operations.

BT’s Q3 was robust in financial terms, delivering revenue growth of 3% and EBITDA growth of 1%, both in-line/ahead of analyst expectations.

Strong broadband ARPU and accelerating FTTP performance at Openreach were the highlights, a weakening BT Business and continued Openreach broadband losses were the main concerns.

This year’s guidance should be easily met, next year’s will be trickier given lower price rises due in April, but the long-term plan of a massive cashflow turnaround when the FTTP build ends is still well on-track.

The CMA has announced the launch of its Phase 1 review of the proposed Vodafone/Three merger, with the timeline suggesting a Phase 1 conclusion in late March and a Phase 2 decision around September/October.

The main focus is likely to be whether the merger would lead to a substantial lessening in competition (SLC), with the companies' varied market positioning helpful in this regard.

The merger's prospective 'countervailing factors' are substantial, with an estimated 25-50% increase in sector capacity further strengthening the imperative for the operators to get customers signed up.

Ofcom’s final statement on net neutrality addresses most of our prior concerns, leading to opportunities for UK telcos to effectively address internet congestion, and monetise their network capabilities.

BT is looking to take advantage of its new freedoms with new TV distribution services, which could save network capacity, improve user experience and earn it a share of the content distribution value chain.

We think that there are many other attractive opportunities, but telcos will have to work hard to sell any of them given the need to work together and reverse the bad blood that has developed with many content providers.

Service revenue growth was broadly flat this quarter as some unwinding of price increases was compensated by a pickup in roaming revenues.

Vodafone has made some progress on its turnaround plan: it has sold its ailing Spanish unit; is rumoured to be in talks about a deal in Italy; and its German business is (just) back to growth (for now).

We expect muted guidance for 2024 with lower prospective price increases for most, inflated cost bases, and continued consolidation uncertainty.

Ofcom’s plan to ban inflation-linked price rises creates a headache for most operators, but the financial hit will not be felt for years, if then (depending on their replacement).

Ofcom is correct in pointing out some of the drawbacks of the practice, but it will likely be replaced by an alternative tactic that may well end up being worse for consumers.

The unintended consequences could be significant, with a period of uncertainty for operators, low-end plans less appealing to offer, and poor signaling to investors in the sector.

Mobile service revenue growth dipped to 5.6% this quarter as the impact of Q2’s price rises began to wane, and the prospective lower price rises look set to slow growth to 2% by the end of 2024.

Bargain-hunting in the sector continues with the MVNOs still taking the lion’s share of net adds, to the detriment of the MNOs.

EE is offering keenly priced convergence and family plans with its new platform—another challenge for the other MNOs who don’t share the same incentives.