Mobile service revenue nudged into growth territory for the first time since the pandemic as a resurgent mobility boost combined with returning roaming revenues.

Q2 looks set to deliver a more convincing growth filip with inflation-linked price rises boosting by 2-5ppts, and a stronger roaming bounce for seasonal reasons.

The picture is not entirely rosy, however, with already discernible B2B headwinds and inevitable consumer bargain-hunting on the horizon.

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.

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.

Mobile service revenue growth improved slightly to -1.7% in Q4 as a higher mobility boost outweighed drags from continuing B2B weakness and MTR cuts.

Q1 prospects look mixed but the real turning point remains Q2 when the impact of inflation-linked price rises looks set to boost growth by 2-5ppts—nudging sector growth into positive territory for the first time since 2018.

Ofcom’s market review did not outline a change of stance on investment and consolidation in our view, but its inclination to have fewer consumer-focused initiatives is a welcome development.

The UK mobile operators are increasingly vocal about their concerns regarding the tech giants, namely Apple and Google, encroaching on the mobile connectivity market.

eSIMs enhance the case for the tech giants launching their own MVNOs (such as Google Fi in the US) or, perhaps more realistically and concerningly, becoming gatekeepers to mobile airtime subscriptions.

Many things would need to line up for the tech giants to effect this and the MNOs need to stand as one to ensure that they are not successful. Policy makers should be equally reticent.

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.

Sky’s performance across 2021 significantly improved, driven in Q4 by a nice c.5% growth rate in UK consumer revenues and the advertising rebound, but effects of the pandemic are still being felt with EBITDA down 30% on 2019.

The decline in Group revenue accelerated in Q4 due to the severe shock to the Italian operation from its loss of most premium football coverage, although we see upsides in a possible rights reshuffle.

In 2022, Sky can leverage growth vectors including bigger content bundles, Glass, advertising innovations and broadband. Consolidating SVOD and telecoms markets may be more favourable to price increases.