M&A may look tempting, but dangers lurk

First published on Mobile World Live, 4 November 2013

More M&A involving mobile operators looks on the cards. According to Ernst & Young’s recently-published H1 2013 report on the M&A sector, 35 per cent of company executives surveyed – from all industry sectors, not just telecoms – said they were likely to pursue acquisitions. That compares with just 25 per cent who thought the same a year ago.

The consulting firm further found that 65 per cent of executives expected the global economy to improve over the coming year, up from a miserly 22 per cent a year ago. Growing confidence in the economic outlook should make boardrooms less reticent about taking the M&A plunge.

Softening M&A attitudes will auger well for some mobile operators. It’s often said M&A is one of the few areas of human activity where it pays to be victim. Deep-pocketed predators (or at least ones that can get their hands on plenty of debt financing) invariably boost the share price of their intended target when word gets out. (more…)

EU roaming: a race to the bottom?

First published on Mobile World Live, 4 October 2013

Getting rid of EU premium roaming charges sounds great for the consumer, but is it good for the mobile industry? European travellers, bruised by ‘bill shock’, are unlikely to care about that. If they can pay the same rates abroad as they do at home, what is there not to like?

There’s an argument, though, that the EU digital chief’s roaming proposals will slow down investment in the region’s mobile networks – the very thing Kroes wants to avoid. (more…)

Four’s a crowd?

Europe’s national regulators tend to like having at least four mobile network operators (MNOs). The more infrastructure competition there is, they reason, the more consumers are likely to benefit from lower prices and service innovation.

Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, bent over backwards to make sure 4G spectrum auction rules would result in at least four MNOs each having enough wireless frequencies to offer what it believes would be a “viable” high-speed data service nationwide. Other European Union (EU) national regulators have been equally assiduous in setting aside 4G spectrum for a fourth player. There are signs, however, that regulatory attitudes – both at a national and European level – are softening. (more…)

Kroes stirs up net neutrality debate – part II

Neelie Kroes, EU digital commissioner, may well be an operator nemesis when it comes to slashing EU roaming rates. On the subject of net neutrality, however, she appears to be taking a pragmatic approach that maybe – just maybe – has appeal to both operators and consumers alike.

After saying at the end of May she was keen on “guaranteeing” net neutrality – which no doubt sent shivers up the spines of many in the mobile industry – Kroes added more detail in a later speech (4 June) on where she thinks legislation could usefully apply to preserving the ‘open internet’. (more…)

Kroes stirs up net neutrality debate – part I

In her most recent call for a single European telecoms market, Neelie Kroes, Europe’s digital commissioner, enthused about getting rid of premium roaming rates. Nothing new there, perhaps, but she also talked about “guaranteeing net neutrality”.

It seems a big shift from her previous stance on the “open internet”, where the emphasis was on making operators’ traffic management policies more transparent. The prospect of EU-wide net neutrality legislation is sure to agitate operators fearful of so-called OTT competition. It will also raise the hackles of EU sovereign states that don’t take kindly to directives from Brussels. This is going to be hard for Kroes to pull off. (more…)

BT’s sporting chance

First published on Industry Briefing, Economist Intelligence Unit, 21 May

In recent years it seemed the only way BT could generate investor excitement was to show what a fine job it was doing at cutting costs. Otherwise, the picture looked bleak. Declining market shares in the UK fixed-line voice and broadband markets, an ailing Global Services division and a mountainous pension fund deficit all cast long and persistent shadows.

Things are changing. After spending lavishly on TV rights for English Premier League football and other sporting events, the UK incumbent is limbering up to launch three BT Sport channels this August. And in an attempt to wrong-foot satellite broadcaster BSkyB – its main opponent in the pay-TV and broadband markets – BT Sports TV will initially come free with BT broadband. Another BT body swerve is to undercut BSkyB subscriptions for pubs and clubs, and reduce the price of its high-speed fibre broadband service. (more…)

Quad-play appetites growing in Europe

First published on Mobile World Live, 1 April 2013

Think Europe and quad-play, then Spain and France might immediately spring to mind. In both countries, the bundling together of mobile and fixed-line services is going down a storm with customers.

Belgium, Portugal and the Netherlands may also figure in your thinking. In all five countries, says Bernstein Research, quad-play is a “mainstream offer”.

Look elsewhere in Europe, though, and quad-play is thin on the ground. Analysys Mason estimates fewer than 5 per cent of households in Germany, Italy and the UK have a bundled package of fixed and mobile services. (more…)

Fixing Vodafone

There was a time when the news that Vodafone Group was eyeing a takeover of Cable & Wireless Worldwide (CWW) would have come as a big surprise. The UK-based operator once seemed determined to be thought of as a mobile-only player, shunning investments in the fixed-line infrastructure that is CWW’s speciality. But when Vodafone last week confirmed its interest in exactly such a deal, few were taken aback. Buying CWW would simply mark the continuation of a strategy that Vodafone started to implement several years ago. (more…)