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  • August 17, 2001

    BT – The Pressure Will Continue

    As the various separations in the BT family draw closer, we use this report to assess the likely prospects of the core UK fixed line division, Wholesale and Retail.

    The key points are:

  • August 16, 2001

    UK Mobile Operators – ‘Active’ Customers

    The UK mobile operators have made much of their honesty in ceasing to record subscribers that have not made calls within six months. This will help analysts make a clearer judgment of how many people actually use mobiles, and what the correct figure is for ARPU. But pleasure at the apparent increase in openness should be tempered somewhat. Operators are starting to make active efforts to stop subscribers becoming 'inactive'. In the last few weeks all the UK operators appear to have adopted similar policies. These policies state that the operator will take back a subscriber's telephone number unless one call is made or one SMS is sent from the phone during each six-month period. As important, the mobile operators are keeping a much tighter rein on inventories, effectively shifting stock risk to retailers such as Carphone Warehouse. Inventory levels throughout the supply chain will be lower. Retail price levels will be more robust – improving operator margins. But we expect total sales over the Christmas period to be lower than expected because of the higher prices in the retail chain.

  • August 11, 2001

    Mobile Handset Market Global Trends and Forecast

    This report provides our model for global handset sales in 2001 to 2005. We continue to forecast 375 million units shipped in 2001. The forecast for 2002 is 470 million units. Key constraints on the level of shipments in Europe: At current pricing levels, we see pay-TV penetration struggling to exceed 60% by 2010. And the rapid continued price inflation in the pay-TV offerings of Sky, the cable companies and ITV Digital will make even this target difficult to achieve. As our recent note on household expenditure (Time and Money) indicated, the poorest 40% of the population have very little surplus cash. Increasing prices means that pay-TV is moving even further beyond the reach of this group.

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    July 31, 2001

    NTL – A False Dawn?

    We look at the recent improvements in NTL performance but suggest that continued progress towards cash generation in unlikely. In our view, NTL will miss its guidance for cash flow in 2002 and 2003 by substantial amounts, making its financial position increasingly unstable. Our view is that NTL will use up its existing cash resources long before it turns cash positive. The problems are exacerbated by the large amounts of NTL's debt that need to refinanced in 2004 and 2005. But market comments on NTL's liquidity position have not been as insightful as they might be. This is where the real attention should have been focused.

  • July 28, 2001

    ITV Digital

    This note has been prompted by a flurry of activity in UK television media: the renaming of ONdigital (‘ITV Digital') and its absorption into the ITV mother ship; the launch of ITV Sport, a new pay-TV channel aimed at sports enthusiasts; the impending final results of BSkyB (‘Sky') on 25th July 2001 (dealt with in a separate note issued on 20th July) and the renewed concerns over the funding of the UK cable companies. ITV Digital itself stresses the importance of thinking about the 'platform' and its associated channel, ITV Sport separately. ITV Digital and its shareholders, Carlton and Granada, are highly optimistic about the future performance of the platform. We look at each of the many reasons for optimism that they have advanced. There is strength in many of their arguments, but we still see their breakeven target as very difficult to achieve.

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  • The Internet of All Things - Towards the Hyper-connected World
    The Internet of All Things - Towards the Hyper-connected World
    July 17, 2001

    Internet Access in the UK

    This report updates our thinking on the market segmentation of Internet access in the UK, one year after we buried the European portal model (Portal Strategies, May 2000). It analyses the connectivity needs of large businesses, medium-sized and small enterprises, and residential customers.

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    July 16, 2001

    The Gross Margin from Retailing Premium Pay-TV Channels

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  • July 11, 2001

    BSkyB’s Results and the State of Pay-TV in the UK

    NTL's share price slide over the last few weeks has focused attention again on the prospects for UK pay-TV. This report extends the analysis to the two largest European incumbents, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom. We look at trends in market share, wholesale and retail pricing, and the impact of increased competition. We identify the companies' strategies in the face of these forces and show the impact of stretched balance sheets on corporate actions.

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    July 6, 2001

    Marconi and DWDM

    Marconi blames reduced capital expenditure budgets for its troubles. We suspect the truth is more complex. Operators and CLECs have put a lot of optical bandwidth into Europe. This looked sensible when expected traffic growth was 100%+ a year. Now, operators see much lower demand growth, so they have little incentive to invest in Marconi's bandwidth-enhancing DWDM technologies. New investment will not come in volume until existing capacity is used. We think this will occur in late 2002, not at the turn of this year as Marconi predicts. Demand will then rise again at a healthy clip. But will Marconi be able to retain its position in Europe or will Ciena or Cisco, with their newer technologies, have captured its major customers? We examine the impact of a potential decrease in consumers' expenditure by looking at the experience of the early 1990's recession in the UK. We put forward a simple model of how consumers' TMT expenditure might change in the event of recession in 2002.

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    July 5, 2001

    UK B2C E-Commerce

    This report updates our UK E-Commerce 2000 report from December 2000 and our European B2C E-Commerce Update of April 2001. It draws mainly on data provided by the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) collected in February 2001.

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    July 1, 2001

    DWDM in Europe

    This report is based on more than 40 interviews with existing online advertisers, agencies and online properties. It highlights the main barriers to growth and sets a challenging agenda for industry participants.

  • June 21, 2001

    BT Rights Issue Pointers

    This is the first of a series of notes on the outlook for the core fixed-line businesses of BT and the other European incumbent telcos. In order to prepare investors for the coming rights issue we briefly consider the issues that face BT's core operations. The follow-on note will provide a more in-depth analysis. Our main points are as follows:

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    June 18, 2001

    3G Infrastructure

    Estimates of the cost of building 3G networks in large European countries have tended to cluster around $5 billion per operator. This, in addition to the embarrassing large licence fees paid to governments, is acting as a drag on stock market performance. This figure is exactly what we would have predicted based on our modelling of 3G costs contained in our June report. Sweden is nearly twice the size of the UK, and the regulator's coverage requirements are probably the strictest in Europe - in theory the whole of population has to be covered. But costs are reduced because Europolitan will share its network with the Hutchison 3G venture in all areas of the country outside the four biggest cities.

  • June 14, 2001

    Mobile Handsets – Sendo

    Despite the bad news it offered the markets last week, Nokia still wields massive power in the handset market. Its market share goal of 40% is well within reach. This makes mobile phones a very unusual business; with the exception of handheld electronic games, we can think of no other major hardware market that is dominated by one manufacturer to the same extent. Moreover, even though mobile phone manufacture is a huge global business, only a handful of firms can actually design and build a new handset. Sendo is a new UK company trying to break into this brutal business. Its business strategy is compellingly different; it focuses entirely on own-brand manufacturing for operators. It already has impressive technical achievements. Will it succeed? Who knows. But we think its business strategy is worth exploring. UK regional newspapers are better positioned than most media to withstand a downturn given the existence of multiple streams of revenue (advertising, circulation) and the unique nature of local franchises. However, the underlying trends are poor and likely to get worse, particularly in recruitment advertising, with greater consolidation inevitable over the medium term.

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    June 5, 2001

    The US/Europe Wireless Spectrum Paradox

    This note examines the US 'spectrum shortage' campaign. We think that US 3G services will be forced to use existing spectrum, rather than move to greenfield frequencies. This is highly relevant to Europe because the lack of dedicated 3G spectrum in the US strongly favours CDMA2000 over Europe's preferred WCDMA. We see signs that several US operators will have CDMA2000 based 3G systems in place, with fully-functioning handsets, long before Europe. The onward march of GSM and its successors into the US may not be the foregone conclusion that some expect. Deutsche Telecom's bridgehead, VoiceStream, is not, for example, as well positioned as Sprint PCS. Furthermore, Vodafone's attempt to get Verizon Wireless to use WCDMA looks ill-conceived to us. In our forthcoming report ‘BT Restructured Into Pieces' we detail our views on BT's prospects as a separated entity, and consider the mooted spinning out of BT Wholesale in light of Oftel's current regulatory tone. In the report we argue that Oftel is likely to be favour the separation of Wholesale from Retail since Oftel has been disappointed with the rate at which effective competition has developed in the telecoms market, particularly in the residential market. In no small part, one of the barriers to the development of effective competition has been the vertical integration of BT. There is no incentive for BT Wholesale to hasten the process of cutting access costs to the network, or to unbundle the local loop. Each of these activities would harm BT's retailing activities, and BT Retail generates extremely high returns on capital (184%pa).

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    May 19, 2001

    NTL Q1 2001 Results

    NTL's quarterly results demonstrate an abrupt change of strategy. Customer acquisition has all but ceased. Increasing telecom prices is the new battle plan. This is sensible, but we question whether the potential revenue gains can do much for debt or equity holders. If UK customer numbers have peaked, even optimism about ARPU will not produce free cash flow. Our scepticism remains. NTL continues to raise money in huge volumes. But note that this quarter's capex (even after the end of the so-called network build-out) is still almost four times EBITDA because investment in providing new services has to continue (e.g. digital set-top boxes). European handset sales have collapsed due to maturity of markets, lengthening replacement cycles and significant changes in operator marketing strategies. Approximately 10-15% of European wireless users have multiple active SIMs; thus subscriber growth has actually been slower than reported and replacement cycles have been faster than perceived; this situation has now reversed in our opinion. The use of multiple active SIMs will diminish over time in our opinion, providing a further brake on sales.

  • May 18, 2001

    Mobile Market Trends and Forecasts for 2001/2

    Our view is that mobile operator marketing strategy was the key determinant of the rate of apparent growth in mobile penetration across Europe in 2000. We use this report to show that operator 'push' was responsible for the increase in apparent subscribers. We examine the evidence on actual rates of ownership and usage in the three of the largest markets and show that underlying mobile penetration is probably around 60% of adults in these markets. Will the reduction in estimated levels of penetration, which the operators also acknowledge, mean continuing high growth rates in future? We think it unlikely. First of all, of course, operator 'push' is reducing. Second, ownership in key demographics, such as 15-24 year olds is already close to saturation. Third, those that do not own a mobile, particularly in the older age groups, appear relatively uninterested in the product. Our pessimism derives from our view, firstly, that subscriber growth in NTL's UK cable franchises has all but ceased and, secondly, that further price rises will inevitably cause loss of subscribers as NTL's telephony and television offerings have already become uncompetitive. Broadband is important but will not generate significant amounts of extra revenue.

  • May 16, 2001

    BSkyB Q3 2000 Results

    In this report Chris Goodall carries out a brief analysis of Sky's results published today and compares them to our projections. Our emphasis in this note is on ITV Digital. What are the options open to the two shareholders of ITV Digital, Carlton and Granada? How can they reduce the burden of supporting ITV Digital through the next few years? What is the likelihood (or otherwise) of substantial improvement in that company's results, in particular break even in 2003?

  • May 11, 2001

    Global Handset Market 2001

    At the current CSFB tech conference in Barcelona Ericsson stated that the expected handset market for 2001 will now be at lower end of its previously stated range of 430-480m; both it & Nokia said the reason was cuts to handset subsidies in Europe. Whilst we are relieved that our early emphasis on the impact of changes in operator strategies on the handset market in Europe has been proved right, we are in the process of revising upwards our own forecast of 300-350 million units based on growth in China (this forecast and spreadsheet will shortly be available). For the future, we expect data traffic to slow given strong signs of a plateau in demand among businesses and changing residential payment models. However, we forecast a gradual evolution towards profitable ISP business models based on unsubsidised pricing for all forms of access. Indeed, we expect overall pure Internet access revenues to continue to grow until the latter part of the decade. This is plainly contrary to all those who predicted access would be free for all and a loss-leader for other forms of revenue, such as online advertising, e-commerce commissions and eCRM (direct marketing).

  • May 8, 2001

    Digital TV Update

    We have published extensively on digital TV in the past 18 months, consistently casting doubt on the potential of TV-centric interactive platforms to (a) generate enough income for operators to repay hardware subsidies and (b) compete with the PC for home shopping activity (t-commerce). We see a clear distinction between the relative success of Sky and the continued slow growth of ITVdigital and the real difficulties being experienced by cable operators. Sky is gaining business while the other operators are struggling to retain their share. This is the first of two notes. In the first (attached), Chris Goodall examines the financial prospects of Sky in advance of its results next week. Chris looks at what would be good or bad numbers for Sky's results in all the main categories, and suggests reasons for short-term optimism. In our next note, which will be sent out on Monday, I analyse ITVdigital and question whether anything can be done to improve its prospects. The launch of ITVsport does not help, with its huge programming budget and limited opportunities.

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    May 5, 2001

    Pay-TV – When Will the Corner be Turned?

    Chris Goodall has dissected the economics of the major pay-TV operators. He finds that if current trends continue, BSkyB, NTL and Telewest will not generate the cash to pay back their debt in the foreseeable future. In the case of the cable companies this leaves the debt holders exposed. Equity holders should be concerned about further dilution from future debt to equity conversion.

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  • April 15, 2001

    ITV Licence Renewals

    This note considers the so-called 'digital dividend' in light of the recent ITV licence renewals. The UK online population reached 17 million in February 2001, up around one-quarter on the year, on the strength of rising participation of women (to 44% of users) and of young people. We expect 4 million users to be added to the online population by February 2002, to reach 21 million, with growth at a lower rate than in 2000.

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    April 9, 2001

    European B2C E-Commerce Update

    This report updates our July 2000 report on European B2C e-commerce, with a special focus on the UK market. We estimate that global net adds were 48m in Q2, down from 58m in Q1 2001. The total net adds so far this year of 106m is 53% of our full year forecast of 201m for these territories, which supports our forecast of 375 million units shipped given that net adds will likely continue to decline in Q3 followed by the seasonally strong Q4.

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    April 5, 2001

    UK ISPs

    The UK online market is among the most mature in Europe: while strong growth continued during 2000 (60% increase in home users), this was less dramatic than in Germany and France.