Mobile and Wireless Technology

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    September 13, 2004

    Virgin Mobile and MVNOs

    MVNOs have attracted much attention recently. Virgin Mobile's IPO revealed attractive economics and discount MVNOs in certain smaller European markets have had success. This report considers the question of whether Virgin Mobile is a one-off or the start of a trend, and whether discount MVNOs can replicate their success in larger countries.

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    June 13, 2004

    3G in Japan

    Although 3G mobile networks are being rolled out aggressively in Japan, instead of the promised land of increased voice and data revenue driving higher profits, revenue is stagnant and costs are rising. In this report we examine why and consider the lessons to be learned for European operators.

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    May 8, 2004

    UK Mobile User Survey

    In this report we update our regular survey of UK mobile users, with the latest survey conducted in April 2004. We look at user penetration, handset replacement rates, camera phone ownership and use, and also the market share prospects and camera phone usage for the mobile network operators.

  • February 6, 2004

    Mobile Location-Based Services

    Location-based services (LBS) have long been credited as a key new mobile data application destined to generate substantial extra revenues for the mobile operators. A number of consumer-focused LBS have been now launched, and in this report we examine their progress and potential, drawing on our own experience and a number of consumer studies.

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    January 21, 2004

    UK Mobile User Survey

    Handset sales in the UK and the rest of Europe have reportedly been strong over the last few months, with camera phones selling well. In this report we look at our most recent survey of UK mobile handset owners to investigate whether this is a result of stronger consumer demand, or whether purchasers have been responding to cheaper offers from mobile operators.

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    November 7, 2003

    Mobile Number Portability

    On 24th November, the FCC hopes finally to force through mobile number portability to the US market. In this report we look at the impact that MNP has had in European markets, drawing conclusions for the potential impact in the US and Japan, and the future of MNP in Europe.

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    October 27, 2003

    Consumer Reactions to 3G

    The service from '3' in the UK is one of the few examples of a 3G network in action in Europe. In this report we look at the evidence of customer experiences at 3 to determine the potential popularity of the services to a wider audience. Our sources include two studies performed by GSM operators and an NOP survey.

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    August 27, 2003

    Global Mobile Trends

    In this report we compare the mobile markets and operator business models in Western Europe, the US and Japan. We examine the main differences, and judge whether convergence is possible or likely.

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    June 15, 2003

    Handset Survey

    This note reports on the results of our latest bi-monthly survey in May 2003 of handset owners and purchase intentions for the near future. Highlights include the rising share of Nokia to 57% of the UK handset market, consistent with past survey results indicating that Nokia remains the favoured brand by a wide margin, both for new entrants and for existing users upgrading to a newer model.

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    April 8, 2003

    ‘3’ and 3G

    With the handsets finally available and (to some extent) working, Hutchison 3G's '3' operation has finally launched in the UK. In this report we review the commercial prospects for '3' in particular and 3G in general.

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    March 5, 2003

    Camera Phones & MMS in 2003

    In this report we look at the sales and usage of camera phones in Europe, and estimate future sales based in part on the results of our regular survey of UK mobile users. As a consequence of these findings, we have downgraded our forecast of UK MMS revenues.

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    December 19, 2002

    UK Handset Survey

    We have recently completed our December survey of UK mobile users, which shows increased purchase intentions for handsets in general and camera phones in particular. We summarise the results in this note, which are good news for handset manufacturers, but more mixed for the operators.

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    November 27, 2002

    Mobile and Internet Substitution

    Weak revenue growth has been a feature of both European and US fixed line incumbent operators over the last six months, with the root of the problem lying in poor growth, or even decline, in the volume of voice calls. This report looks at the reasons.

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    November 1, 2002

    Mobile Device Update

    In this short note we look at three data product offerings recently launched by the operators: Vodafone Live!, the Orange SPV and Vodafone Mobile Office laptop card service. Vodafone Live! follows a sensible strategy of having the operator define the user interface to help drive revenues, and is launched with two new light and compact handset models. However, the service has many glitches, with only the camera function working as well as it should, and very few of its target market will be likely to be able to afford the handsets. The SPV and laptop cards, being aimed at business users, stand a much better chance of being affordable to their target market, but we wait to see if those products are marketed and executed well.

  • October 1, 2002

    Nokia 3G Handset Launch

    Last week Nokia launched its first 3G handset, the 6650. Or did it? Although the size, weight and price initially looked impressive, the handset has not really been launched (not until H1 2003), and technically it is not really 3G (the data rates are too slow). By the time the handset is actually widely available to consumers, GSM-only handsets will have a much better feature/price combination, with a 3G handset only appealing to laptop users who would probably prefer a data card anyway. This is good news for the operators - they can comfortably delay potentially expensive 3G roll-outs safe in the knowledge that competitors will not gain any advantage by being first to market with the current generation of handsets. This note looks at what has happened to NTL in the past year, and the prospects for 2003-2004. It emerges from a period of introspection to face stronger competition than ever. Sky has won the battle for digital TV. Although NTL has been successful in broadband this year, BT has serious plans for this market.

  • September 29, 2002

    Mobile Handset Replacement

    This note reports on our third bi-monthly survey of handset replacement intentions in the UK. Purchase intentions have weakened slightly in the last four months, suggesting a further lengthening in the average replacement cycle. Interest in replacing phones to acquire new handset features remains low. Awareness of camera phones is extremely high, but the most recent survey shows a decline in the level of interest in purchasing, probably as the prices of these devices has become more widely known. Nokia remains the overwhelmingly dominant choice for consumers' next brand of phone. No other manufacturer has more than a tiny prospective share. We think that TPS can probably just survive the prospective loss of football to Canal Satellite. Paradoxically, this may not be an ideal result for TF1, because it will not be able to argue that a merger of the two satellite platforms is justified on 'failing firm' grounds. Competition regulators will sometimes allow a merger on the grounds that the weaker company is bound to fail. This does not seem to be likely to be the case in French pay-TV, though TPS's subscriber numbers will be dented by the loss of the best football.

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    September 13, 2002

    European Mobile Operators – Mobile Valuation

    In this report, we look at the components of a theoretical DCF valuation of European mobile operators, focusing on Vodafone as the most salient example, and compare our views with those of the ‘analyst consensus'. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we are more conservative on revenue and margin forecasts than most forecasters, but an area in which we are uncharacteristically optimistic is cost of capital; the one benefit of the mobile industry's transformation to low but stable growth is that WACCs should fall through both reduced betas and the ability to take on more debt. Our resulting value per share for Vodafone is lower than the analyst consensus forecasts would give, but is still a healthy 115p. We should stress that this is not a price target or a recommendation, as many other factors affect stock prices apart from theoretical projections. The Vodafone share price is currently trading below the valuation implicit in our low growth assumptions, perhaps because of cynicism about the company's excessive past promises, the possibility of further expensive acquisitions or many other potential concerns.

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    August 11, 2002

    Camera Phones

    Camera phones represent the best hope of the mobile operators. Proven demand in Japan gives European operators reason for optimism that cameras will increase ARPU. Handset manufacturers believe it will ignite replacement demand.

  • July 17, 2002

    European Mobile Operators – Capital Expenditure Trends

    Analysts are predicting substantial declines in mobile industry capital expenditure when expressed as a percentage of turnover. These improvements are supposed to be driven by (a) declining growth in call minutes; (b) decreasing prices of capital equipment; and (c) better 'capital efficiency' in the 3G era. The continuing success of the industry has derived partly from its position at the meeting point of several important social trends – the decline in the reading of books, the gradual fall in the total circulation of newspapers, increased attention paid to celebrities and fashion and, most important, the increasing amount of disposable income available to the people under 35. Improvements in printing costs and distribution have allowed publishers to make money, even though the average sales per magazine have fallen substantially.

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    June 10, 2002

    Mobile Termination Charges

    This note looks at the likely extent of regulatory pressures on reducing termination charges for off-net calls to the 2G networks of mobile network operators (MNOs) in the UK, Italy and Germany. These charges are well above cost – mainly because each MNO acts as a monopolist for termination of calls on its network - and are therefore important contributors to revenues as well as profits of MNOs. In the UK, off-net interconnection charges contribute one-quarter of revenues of the four MNOs.

  • June 5, 2002

    Handset Sales and the Replacement Cycle

    In developed markets, the crucial determinant of the level of mobile handset sales is the speed of replacement, not the volume of new subscribers. But data on when customers expect to replace their existing phone, and what will prompt them to make the change, is extremely hard to find. In order to rectify this deficiency, we commissioned a telephone survey of customers in the UK. Wanadoo also looks set to achieve its target of 2 million new subscribers in 2002 once the acquisition of the Spanish ISP eresMas is finalised in October. Organic growth of the Internet subscriber base has been poor in France and at a virtual standstill at Freeserve in the UK in the context of slow-growing Internet markets.

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    May 15, 2002

    European Mobile Operators – Revenue Growth

    In this note we look at the recent revenue growth performance of European mobile operators. We show that the current pessimism about future performance looks broadly justified. We comment on the increasing evidence, at least in the UK, that mobile penetration has stalled and that minutes of use are growing only slowly. We admit that our previous view that mobile usage would drift upwards even with stable call charges looks difficult to justify at the moment. Instead, many marginal users, such as older age groups and the less well-off, appear to be reducing their usage of mobile phones, possibly in reaction to perceived high prices.

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    February 15, 2002

    European Mobile Operators – Mobile Data

    The mobile operators in the UK and elsewhere probably make a higher margin on SMS than on any other product. We think that about 30% of a UK operator's gross margin in derived from SMS and the percentage is rising. This report asks the question 'why should mobile operators launch any other mobile data products aimed at consumers?'. SMS now generates about £800 per megabyte of traffic. GPRS prices fall to about £1 per megabyte to heavy users. We conclude that operators may say that they are focusing on new consumer data services, but the reality will be very different as they work to protect their golden goose. In the long run, we think that SMS is vulnerable to Instant Messaging services introduced onto networks by innovative third parties. (In the US, where SMS has not really taken off, and thus the operators have no profits to protect, these applications are already available on some GSM networks). The survey showed the typical UK consumer expects to keep his or her phone an average of 39 months. The most likely reason for changing would that the owner's existing phone no longer works. Younger consumers will replace their phone much more swiftly than the average.

  • January 22, 2002

    Mobile Operators – The Pricing of Calls to Mobiles

    The charges imposed by the mobile operators for handling incoming calls are a very important part of their revenue stream. The UK telecoms regulator is attempting to force the networks to reduce their prices significantly. The row has just been referred to the UK competition authorities. We look at the arguments used by Oftel to justify its harsh stance. We conclude that the evidence supports the regulator's view that incoming call charges are held artificially high. As a result, analysts should expect that the UK networks will fail to see the charge cap reversed. The impact on revenue will be about 7% in the next four-year period. This will flow straight to the profit line. Increases in fixed to mobile call volumes, as a result of the lower prices, will partly offset this. Wanadoo's aim of being the #2 broadband ISP in Europe (behind T-Online, way ahead) was adversely affected in Q1 2002 by the decision of the French Competition Commission to halt the marketing of the company's product through the network of France Telecom, so other ISPs can also have a chance to establish a foothold. Wanadoo has had to resort to other, more expensive, marketing platforms, and sales are running at about 70% of the pace before the decision. Wanadoo is also looking for a strong showing on broadband from Freeserve, just entering the market now: 70,000 broadband subscribers by year-end, and a quarter million by mid-2003. We are sceptical whether the brand can shake its reputation for cheap Internet service, which continues to attract a large PAYG base.