Vodafone’s leverage issue continues to drive its strategy and operational focus, as evidenced in its H1 results with solid EBITDA but lacklustre revenues.

Its leverage crisis is severely exacerbated by the prospect of a fibre build in Germany as well as a sizeable headwind to its cable business momentum there. Further sell-downs at Vantage will help and we view the prospects of consolidation as slightly improved, with Spain the most promising option.

Growth in the UK appears to be on hold and the outlook is mixed with VMO2’s notice for early termination for its MVNO, ongoing B2B weakness expected but significant inflation-linked price rises on the cards.

VMO2’s half-year results were something of a mixed bag with some decent revenue momentum but a big hit to EBITDA as COVID cost-savings unwound and company full year guidance suggests a further deterioration in Q4.

Volt, VMO2’s convergence product, is well-conceived and executed. With a following wind it should avoid the pitfall of revenue dilution whilst potentially offering some upsides.

The company remains in strategic limbo awaiting an outcome on its wholesale discussions with Sky. This will determine not just fibre expansion plans but also branding and co-marketing of its central products.

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.

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.

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.

With the O2/Virgin Media merger now approved, VodafoneZiggo in the Netherlands may hold clues to their likely approach to the market although their starting point is not quite the same and some lessons may have been learned.

We remain sceptical of the merits of discount-led convergence strategies. The pandemic, however, has eased the route to cross-selling and strengthened the case for convergent technologies.

Virgin Media’s network strategy will be key with significant risks from wholesaling their cable network and from expanding their footprint.

As we expected, UK mobile operators are beginning to introduce EU roaming tariffs, with EE taking the first major leap in the hope that others will follow.

This move is somewhat inevitable as current arrangements leave operators exposed to up to €75 of monthly wholesale charges.

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.