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Take My Money, Just Don’t Hit Me in the Face

by Philip Kendall | Mar 02, 2010

We are currently updating Q4 operational/financial data in our Wireless Operator Performance Benchmarking research, with the last 7 days seeing a large number of operators report results. There are two over-riding themes coming out of the results so far. Firstly, for most operators Q4 was better than Q3, which is great news. The slight problem is that this is better in the sense of “less worse”. If you get mugged two days in a row, the chances are the mugger will get less off you on the second day – you probably haven’t got a new phone and your spare wallet won’t have all your replacement cards/ID in it yet. So that’s obviously a much better mugging. So the fact that revenues and profits didn’t fall as fast in Q4 as they did in Q3 is equally good, right? Secondly, “relentless” cost control / management is a standard item in strategic directions for 2010. A few operators are predicting flat EBITDA for this year, many are expecting moderate single-digit declines. Mobile data remains the growth engine, but falling revenues from voice/termination/roaming will be hard to overcome. So its cost control that will save operator profitability in 2010: distribution mixes and device subsidies seem to be key items up for debate in most mature markets. I worry for an operator recovery in 2010. The recession will be officially over (it already is in many countries), but unemployment will increase, few workers will be banking on pay rises, private consumption will lag GDP growth (which is itself a real mixed bag across different countries), and governments will push through austere budgets. Plus everyone who put off upgrading their handset last year will want to do it this year, so we will see a higher share of mobile spend diverted to device vendors. Depressed yet? The debt crisis in Greece is perhaps a worst case scenario, though I’ll leave you with this sobering quote from OTE’s results last week: “In 2010, the OTE Group expects its revenue base to be further impacted by difficult economic conditions in all markets, lower consumer spending, intense competition, and regulatory constraints on its capacity to respond effectively to these factors. OTE management … will work hard to minimize revenue shrinkage and defend Group profitability.” OTE will not be the only operator to get mugged again in 2010. Phil Kendall
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