ZTE gains confidence on the back of solid earnings growth

Perhaps ZTE has just been enjoying an uncomfortable silence and an expensive milkshake in recent months, but its financials for the first half of 2019 are screaming for attention.

It is quite difficult to measure the performance of the business looking at the financials alone, ZTE found itself in the Trump crosshairs in H1 2018, though the team is hyping itself up now, seemingly to gain attention in a very noisy segment. ZTE is often overlooked when considering the major network infrastructure vendors, but it certainly does warrant mention.

Revenues for the first half of 2019 stood at roughly $6.23 billion, up 13.1% year-on-year, profits increased a massive 118% to $210 million. The team is now forecasting profits between $530-640 million for the first nine months of the year.

These numbers might sound very impressive, but it was at this point last year when President Trump and his administration targeted ZTE. In May 2018, ZTE announced its major operating activities had ceased after the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) placed an export ban on the vendor. Without the US complement in the ZTE supply chain, the firm was almost extinct, though concessions were made and now it appears it is business as usual.

This is why the year-on-year gains are largely irrelevant. ZTE was a shell of a company at this point last year, fighting for its very survival.

That said, the company is surging towards the 5G finish line just like its rivals, and now it needs to convince potential customers it is a stable, reliable and innovative partner. Being selected to supply equipment to any telco will be after intense scrutiny, and thus the charm offensive has begun.

First of all, lets start with the R&D spend. ZTE has suggested it has spent roughly $900 million on R&D for the first six months of 2019, a 14.5% ratio of the total revenues for the period. This is an increase from the 12.8% share of the same period of 2018, with the new figure just ahead of the 13.8% share of revenues (estimate) Huawei allocated to R&D last year. The domestic rival has promised to increase this figure by 15-20% for 2019, though the overall percentage will not be known until the full year financial figures are known.

In comparison, Ericsson said it attributed 18.5% of net sales revenue to R&D over the course of 2018, a figure which increased to 18.7% by the end of the first six months of 2019. At Nokia, 18.4% of net sales revenues were directed towards the R&D department for the first six months of this year.

This part of the business has largely been focusing on the development of basic operating systems, distributed databases and core chipsets most recently. The company has completed the design and mass production of the 7nm chipsets, while it is currently undergoing the R&D phase for 5nm chipsets.

All this work has resulted in 3,700 5G patents being granted to the firm, though this number might notably increase in the near future. ZTE has also said it is partnering with various Chinese universities to source 5,000 new employees to bolster the R&D ranks. Once again, these are numbers which are being cast into the public domain to enhance the reputation of the business at a time where vendors are facing scrutiny at an unprecedented level.

Of course, when we are talking about creating a perception of stability and reliability, as well as increased scrutiny, you have to discuss security.

ZTE might have managed to avoid US aggression over the last couple of months, Huawei has been the primary target, but as a partly state-owned entity, such questions will never be that far away. This is where the cybersecurity centres will play an important role.

Opened in Nanjing, Rome and Brussels, the cybersecurity centres will allow potential customers to test and validate the security credentials of the firm prior to installing any equipment or software in the network. Some will not be convinced this is a fool-proof way to ensure resilience, though it is an act of transparency which the industry and governments have been crying out for.

The result of this work is 60 memorandums of understanding (MoU) with telcos around the world, 50 5G demonstrations in 20 industry verticals, 300 strategic collaborations and 200 5G products to date.

It is often easy to overlook ZTE and designate the firm as a poor man’s version of 5G network infrastructure, but the numbers justify inclusion at the top table. The challenge which ZTE now faces it making prominent strides into Western markets, the very ones which are getting twitchy over security and price today.

Is Xiaomi filling a Huawei-shaped hole in the smartphone market?

Huawei might be suffering in today’s political climate, but every action gets a positive and negative reaction and could Xiaomi be benefitting from its rival’s misery?

The Chinese challenger brand might have missed on market expectations for revenue, but it is not the worst set of financial results you have ever seen. Looking at the most simplistic measure of a company, it made more money than last year, brought in more profits and sold more products; not too bad.

“Thanks to the Xiaomi relentless efforts, we have managed to achieve solid growth in our businesses, posting a consensus-beating profit and becoming the youngest Fortune Global 500 company in 2019, despite global economic challenges,” said Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun.

“Our performance is testament to the success of our ‘Smartphone + AIoT’ dual-engine strategy and the Xiaomi business model. Looking ahead, we will continue to strengthen our R&D capabilities and investments so as to capture the great opportunities brought by 5G and AIoT markets and strive towards ongoing achievements for the company.”

Financial analysts will be pouring over the spreadsheets to understand why Xiaomi seemingly missed market expectations, but let’s not forget, the smartphone market is in a notable slump right now. Sales are slowing and the 5G euphoria is yet to hit home to compensate. No-one is immune from overarching global trends.

However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the majority of smartphone manufacturers; there are gains to be made from the Huawei misery.

According to the latest smartphone shipment numbers from Canalys, Huawei’s smartphone shipments in Europe have declined year-on-year by 16%, while Samsung and Xiaomi have grown their numbers by 20% and 48% respectively. Other factors will contribute to the increase, though there will be former-Huawei customers who are seeking alternatives brands at the end of their replacement cycle.

Huawei is in a bit of a sticky situation right now. Firstly, its credibility has been called into question, thanks to President Trump’s trade war, while its supply chain is suffering due to the tariffs from the aforementioned trade war. The supply of critical components is under threat, as are security updates from Google’s Android operating system. Both of these concerns will impact consumer buying decisions.

Looking at Huawei’s financial figures, the consumer business unit is still on the rise, revenues were up 23%, though when you take into consideration the analyst estimates, it would seem these gains are from the domestic market. If Xiaomi can avoid collateral damage, it could benefit from Huawei’s alleged downturn in the international markets.

This does seem to be the case. For the first half of 2019, Xiaomi’s revenues increased 20.2% year-on-year to roughly $13.55 billion. The international markets, an area of significant potential for Xiaomi, accounted for 42.1% of the total, compared to a 36.3% proportion in the same period of 2018.

The gains in Europe have been highlighted above, though the Indian market is looking like a very profitable one. IDC estimates suggest Xiaomi is still leading smartphone shipments in India and has done for the last eight consecutive quarters. Estimates from eMarketer state smartphone penetration will grow to 29% of the Indian population in 2019, year-on-year growth of 12.5%. There is still a massive amount of growth potential in this market which is undergoing its own digital revolution.

Another area which has been highlighted for gains by the Xiaomi management team is the increasing diversity of the product portfolio.

Aside from the Mi 9 series and Redmi Note 7 series, the team launched the new K20 flagship during the second quarter, with shipments exceeding one million in the first month. The CC Series has also seemingly gained traction with female audiences, while the Mi MIX 3 5G was one of the first 5G compatible devices to hit the market. Numerous telcos have partnered with Xiaomi for this device, suggested the team is taking the shotgun approach as opposed to signing exclusive partnerships.

What is clear, Xiaomi is a smartphone manufacturer which is heading in the right direction. However, the gains could be increased should the misery continue for Huawei.

Cisco hits expectations once again, but disappoints on forecast

Cisco has released financials for the final three-month period of 2018, beating market expectations for the 21st consecutive quarter.

He might not be the most flamboyant of CEOs, but like Satya Nadella over at Microsoft, Chuck Robbins is letting the business do the talking. Since his appointment in 2015, the vendor has gone from strength-to-strength, with these results adding another feather to the cap.

Looking at the financials, total revenue for the three months reached $13.4 billion a 5% year-on-year increase, while net income was down 42% to $2.2 billion. Although the latter figure might shock some, CFO Kelly Kramer has suggested this is only a blip on the radar, with the hole attributable to US Treasury Regulations issued during the quarter relating to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

In terms of the numbers across the year, total revenues stood at $51.7 billion, up 7%, while net income was $13.8 billion, an increase of 9% compared to the previous year.

However, it is not all glimmering news.

“Let me reiterate our guidance for the first quarter of fiscal ’20,” Kramer said during the earnings call. “We expect revenue growth in the range of 0% to 2% year over year.”

Considering the ambitious plans set-forward by the business over the last few years, this would not seem to be the most generous of forecasts. The dampened forecast might well disappoint a few investors. What is worth noting, it that despite having strong and stable foundations, Cisco is not immune to global trends.

Looking at the telco customers, Asia is demonstrating weakening demand for Cisco. The China telco business is weakening, while demand in India has dropped off as aggressive network roll-outs in 2018 are not being replicated today.

In terms of working with enterprise customers, the team had two major software deals in 2018 which are “tough to compare against”, according to Robbins, while the Chinese and UK markets are demonstrating weakened positions thanks to events which are outside of the control of the team. No prizes for guessing what those events might be.

What is worth noting is that while it is easy to point the finger of blame towards China in the current political climate, take    this explanation from Robbins and Kramer with a pinch of salt. Cisco’s revenues in China might have declined by 25% this year, though the market only accounts for less than 3% of total revenues.

Cisco is no different from any other vendor in the telco space right now. It might be performing healthily, though it is reliant on telcos getting their act together and pushing network investments forward. The 5G bonanza to boost profitability in the telco ecosystem is yet to appear, though there are hints it might be just around the corner (as always…).

“I would say don’t anticipate that being a huge profit driver off of the 5G transition that’s going to come when they build more robust broader 5G infrastructure where they’ll deliver enterprise services and that’s going to come after they do the consumer side,” Robbins said.

“So, it’s a bit unclear when that will take place. I’d say we’re not modelling and don’t anticipate any significant improvement in this business in the very near term.”

This is where the 5G hype can be slightly misleading. There are of course telcos who are surging ahead, but these are only a fraction of the networks around the world. It is promising, but the market leaders or fast followers are not going to flood vendors bank accounts with profits.

There are numerous markets who are still in the testing phases of 5G, with the telcos aiming to figure out the commercial business model to make the vast investments in future-proofed markets work. When we start getting to the steep rises of the bell curve, this is where the profits will start rolling in.

That seems to be the message from the Cisco management team today; we’re in a healthy position, but don’t expect this quarter to blow anyone’s mind away. The 5G euphoria is on the horizon, but investors will have to wait just a little bit longer.

Ofcom fines BT for suspect accounting

Ofcom has fined BT £3,727,330 for reporting inaccurate financials to the regulator, leading to the telco paying lower administration fees to the regulator for five years.

One of the ways in which Ofcom funds its activities is to charge certain companies an annual administration fee. This fee is determined by the total revenues generated by the company. As BT reported inaccurate results between 2011 and 2015, it paid lower administration fees throughout this period.

BT has not contested the fine, and the full sum had been paid to Ofcom on July 29.

“BT’s cooperation with Ofcom in relation to this investigation has been extensive and productive,” Ofcom said in the report.

“Upon discovery of its error, BT informed Ofcom and committed to remedying the consequences of its error. BT has also undertaken extensive work to ensure that its final resubmitted turnover is complete and accurate; had Ofcom had to carry out this work itself, it is likely to have required significant resource and time to complete.”

Although BT does not have the most glimmering record when it comes to accounting in recent years, the telco did own up to the error rather than Ofcom being informed by a whistle-blower.

The error seems to have been identified by BT Group CFO Simon Lowth, who had only been in the role for a year at the time. In September 2017, documents were submitted to Lowth to review the submission of annual turnover for 2016. Upon reviewing the document, Lowth ordered an investigation into the previous submissions dating back to the original General Demand for Information in 2011.

BT believes the oversight was down to human error, an employee misunderstanding the data sources used, though it still does not the most complementary light on the accounting practices of the business.

Aside from this oversight, BT is still reeling from the Italian accounting scandal which was unearthed in 2016. The fraud cost the company more than £530 million, with £8 billion being wiped off the telcos market value in a single day. US investors, represented by law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, have recently announced a lawsuit to recover some of the losses.

The £3,727,330 fine might be considered a relatively lenient one, though generally regulators are kinder to the guilty party if it admits to wrong-doing without prompt. The sum was calculated by adding the deficit to interest payments. The Bank of England base interest rate during the 2011-15 period was increased by 1% to get the total.

It is difficult to blame the current management team and workforce for this error, it would have been prior to the tenure of many employees, though it does not reflect well on a company which is attempting to prove it is a successful business.

Convergence may well pay off for Virgin Media

It might not be setting the world on fire, but Virgin Media is proving the slow, steady approach to business is certainly worth paying attention to.

On the financial side of the business, total revenues grew marginally by 0.4% to £1.279 billion for the second quarter. Broadband customer acquisitions bolstered the financials, though these gains were mainly offset by customer losses in TV and mobile. This doesn’t seem to be the most attractive of statements, though the management team doesn’t seem to be worried as the convergence mentality becomes more prominent.

“Our disciplined and balanced approach to customer acquisition and capital expenditure has seen a return to growth in our sector-leading cable ARPU and strong free cash flow generation,” said Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media.

“Underpinning this is the continued success of our network expansion, new initiatives to improve sales and customer service and our fixed-mobile Oomph bundles which have already seen a doubling of customers attaching a mobile SIM to their package with meaningfully higher ARPU.”

An important aspect to always consider when discussing convergence is the incremental nature; this is a strategy which casts an eye to the horizon. Quarter-on-quarter you might not see the benefits, but in a few years’ time, a few will look back and wonder how they got by without such a considered approach to customer management, acquisition and retention.

Looking at the business objectives, there are four strategic pillars; converged customer contracts, increased sales efficiencies, improvement in base management and digital transformation. None of these strategies are a silver-bullet to find the next billion, but this is looking like a business which is in a healthy position, posed for growth in the next era of connectivity.

In the broadband business, Protect Lightning (the fibre buildout programme) now passes 1.8 million premises throughout the UK. Subscriptions increased by 5,000 across the period, taking the total to 14.7 million. Video cable subscriptions are down, though with a new bundle offering launched focused on sport, this could be an interesting area of growth for the business.

Over the next couple of weeks, we strongly suspect there will be an aggressive advertising campaign to glorify the benefits of Virgin Media’s TV subscriptions. Bundling together Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon (separate subscription) into a single aggregated content platform might be attractive to numerous sports fans, and at a cheaper price than competitors, it has the potential to cause disruption.

This has been a pain-point for Virgin Media for the last few years. Speaking from experience, your correspondent can detail the inadequacies of the TV package, though industry analysts are increasingly confident this new approach from Virgin Media is much more comprehensive. The management team are also putting a brave face on the loss of TV subscriptions, suggesting the strategy is to move away from entry-level customers, focusing on higher-end, higher-value targets.

These are two of the convergence prongs at Virgin Media, with mobile being the final. This is another area where subscriptions declined, primarily pre-paid, though as Virgin Media is currently an ‘also-ran’ in the mobile segment there is significant room for growth if the proposition is fairly priced in.

Working with EE/BT, the opportunity is certainly there to create an effective mobile proposition. EE/BT regularly has the highest rated network in terms of overall performance, though perhaps Virgin Media’s ability to offer 5G tariffs will play a notable role here. We’re not too sure what the agreement is between the two parties, though should it be able to offer 5G services over the EE/BT network sooner rather than later, the convergence strategy may well receive a boost.

Looking at the benefits of convergence, many point to higher ARPU, though perhaps the more significant, longer-term advantage is customer retention. Virgin Media experienced 15% customer churn at the end of 12-month contracts, though many accept churn rates decrease for converged customers. Considering the cost of acquiring new customers in a saturated market like the UK, anything which can be done to improve retention is a massive bonus.

In terms of convergence, the number of fixed-mobile converged customers has improved to 19.9%, as the proportion of new customers taking mobile with cable services doubled post launch. We have asked for more details on the number of converged customers as a percentage of the total, churn rates in comparison between the two and differences in ARPU, and at the time of writing Virgin Media is yet to respond.

We suspect the numbers will be positive, though nothing that will stop the world from spinning. That said, that is not a bad thing. Convergence is about incremental gain, the slow and steady approach to business improvement.

Convergence is about setting goals a few years in the future, it’s a gradual gander forward. You might not see the benefits, but looking back, you’ll wonder how you operated without such a considered approach to business. Virgin Media is looking like it is in a healthy position.

Skyworks financials reveal the cost of working with Huawei

Mobile chip maker Skyworks solutions has released its financial results for the third quarter of 2019, with a $127 million hole in comparison to the same period of 2018.

In most circumstances, a 16% drop in revenues for a three-month period would send the office into meltdown. Executives and shareholders will of course not be thrilled, but this downturn was expected by pretty much everyone involved; this is the cost of doing business with Huawei.

As you can see from the table below, there are certainly some numbers which will cause a persistent twitch.

Q3 2019 Q2 2018
Net revenue $767 million $894.3 million
Gross profit $312.5 million $442.7 million
Net income $144.1 million $286.5 million
Earnings per share (Basic) $0.83 $1.58

What is worth noting is that there are factors contributing to this downturn outside the Huawei saga. Semiconductor sales across the world are in a trough currently, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) unveiled quarterly figures earlier this week, with the global smartphone shipments impacting financials everywhere.

Perhaps due to a lack of innovation in the smartphone arena or consumers afraid of purchasing new devices with a new ‘G’ on the horizon, shipments have declined. History suggests this is cycler, though the depressed states of affairs can also be contributed to Huawei business.

Skyworks solutions is one of those businesses which is in a somewhat difficult position. There might a brief reprieve for those working with Huawei, though the damage has clearly been done.

In entering Huawei onto the Entity List, effectively banning any US company from working with the Chinese vendor, President Trump released a wave of collateral damage. Skyworks was not one of the worst effected, though as you can see there clearly is friendly fire from the White House.

During last years Annual Report, Skyworks told investors Huawei was one of three firms which accounted for more than 10% of annual revenues. With a third of generated revenues being attributed to three companies, this is not the healthiest position, but in the smartphone segment it is largely unavoidable; there aren’t than many manufacturers after all.

Interestingly enough, while the firm did beat market expectations, this does not seem to have diluted fears from investors.

The management team has greenlit a 16% increase of dividend payments, while there is hope it might be able to continue work with Huawei, but investors are seemingly voting with their feet. At the time of writing, share price declined by almost 7.4% in overnight trading.

This is not a firm which will cease to exist because of these negative events, however it is wounded right now. Huawei is a massive customer for the team and an account which was only getting more profitable as Huawei grew its global smartphone market share. This is not the beginning of the end, but it doesn’t make for the most comfortable reading.

Solid if unspectacular results for Three UK as it prepares for the 5G era

Three UK has unveiled its financial results for the first half of 2019, and while it is nothing to shout and scream about, the bigger prizes are coming into view on the horizon.

Revenue might have decreased by 2%, but that is nothing to worry about when you look at the bigger picture. Subscribers are increasing, net promoter score is on the up, margins are remaining consistent and the enterprise business unit is demonstrating steady growth. 5G is on the horizon and Three is in a healthy position to demonstrate growth.

“We’re pleased with the progress we’re making going towards 5G,” said CFO Darren Purkis. “Feel we’re setting up the business well for the launch in the second half of the year.”

This might have been a bit of a tricky period for the Three business to navigate, as while it has a reputation for disrupting the status quo and playing a different ball-game from its rivals, it has been relatively quiet over the last six months. There have been no antagonistic marketing campaigns and little wow factor to report. Three has its eyes set on the 5G era and all announcements have focused on the preparations.

Currently the UK is sitting in the calm before the storm. EE and Vodafone might have launched their 5G networks already, but the marketing A-Bomb has not been dropped yet. We suspect over the next couple of weeks there will be a marketing blitz as Three and O2 prep themselves to launch; you won’t be able to suck a polo without being bombarded with 5G messaging before too long.

Looking at the financial side of the results, Purkis highlighted there was no reason to be concerned about a slight revenue dip. More customers have been migrated to unlimited data tariffs, removing charges for exceeding data bundles, while international calling regulations have changed, and new accounting principles have been applied. Revenue might have dipped, but the margins have remained.

When talking to Three today and over the last couple of months, the tone has been much more reserved than in previous years. This is a company which is prepping for 5G and there will be much more excitable spokespeople and marketing campaigns when the network is up-and-running.

On the network side, the Nokia 5G core is running and the team are migrating customers onto the new network. IT transformation has continued, as CAPEX increased by 23% over the first six months, and the launch of 20 data centres around the country will shift the mobile experience closer to customers. Three has regularly been criticised for having a poor network in comparison to rivals, though few can say it is doing nothing about it.

This is one perception which will have to be addressed if Three is going to be a major force in the 5G world, though all the signs are looking positive.

“Three’s results held few surprises as it reported a solid if unspectacular performance during the first half of the year,” said Kester Mann of CCS Insight. “The number of active customers nudged up just 1%. This glacial growth illustrates a leading reason why Three sees 5G as a catalyst to reinvigorate its brand and achieve the scale it has long for craved.

“Given its strong position in 5G spectrum – a major advantage over rivals – Three was understandably keen to talk up its 5G credentials once again. When it launches later this month, expect it to focus on unlimited data, low prices and disruption in home broadband.”

Purkis highlighted consumer mobile will remain the core focus of the business moving forward, it is known as the brand for data-intensive users after all, though there are other opportunities to be aware of.

In the home, the 5G FWA offering presents a significant threat to the traditional broadband service providers, demonstrated by the 4G FWA offering which the company already offers. Three currently has 830,000 home broadband customers, a number which could very much increase as increased speeds are offered over the new airwaves.

This diversification to the core mobile business was brought about by the acquisition of UK Broadband in 2017, though it has also offering them a glimpse into the world of enterprise business services.

Enterprise business services represents a very small aspect of the overall Three business now, but this is a big opportunity for the team. With UK Broadband as part of the Three family, the team is learning the tricks of the trade, and in September, Mark Stanfield will join as MD for Enterprise Services adding to the momentum. Stanfield’s role will be to set-up a more complete enterprise business function, which will include more attention for the wholesale segment.

Once again, the consumer business will continue to be the core of Three’s activities, but there are opportunities to attract more revenue through enterprise services. Currently the team are focusing on Small Office and Home Office (SOHO) customers, businesses no-larger than nine people, though once a firm foundation has been created here the team will look to engage larger businesses.

Another opportunity which is being evaluated in the UK Broadband business unit is for private campus networks. UK Broadband MD Ros Singleton is leading the charge here, and while the team currently manages a number of different networks already, it is actively engaged in various tender processes to expand the footprint.

The financial results here are nothing to write home about, but this is a business which is in preparation mode for the 5G era. We suspect there will be bigger things to come here as Three has crafted a position and collected assets to mount a considered challenge to its three larger rivals.

Huawei defies waves of accusations to 23% growth

It seems not even the White House can stop the progress of Huawei as the vendor records 23% H1 year-on-year growth despite being the focal point of the US/Chinese dispute.

It’s been banned in some market, ignored in others, entered onto the US trade Entity List, the subject of espionage accusations and faced continued scrutiny over the security credentials of its products, but somehow Huawei has managed to register another period of financial growth.

Just to put these results into perspective, Ericsson grew its revenues by 10% over the first six months of 2019, while Nokia’s sales increased by 4% year-on-year during its latest quarter. Huawei might be having a tough time of it, but it still managed to eclipse its rivals with 23% revenue growth over the first six months.

“This has been a unique period in Huawei’s history,” said Huawei Chairman, Liang Hua.

“Given the situation, you might think that things have been chaotic for us. But that’s far from the case. We have been working hard to ensure smooth operations, and our organization is as sound as ever. With effective management and an excellent performance across all financial indicators, our business has remained robust in the first half of 2019.”

With 50 commercial 5G contracts and 150,000 base stations shipped, there still appear to be interested customers despites the efforts of the US and its propaganda campaign to undermine the reputation of the network infrastructure market leader. This is a metric which Huawei has always been confident in publicly stating, though it is difficult to compare apples with apples as neither of its main rivals are prepared to declare the number of base stations shipped.

What will continue to surprise many around the world is the continued growth of the business despite the on-going storm of controversy which is swirling above. Some might also be gobsmacked about the inability of Ericsson and Nokia to capitalise of the situation. This is not the end of the 5G race for the network infrastructure vendors, but Huawei is still the clear leader.

What we don’t know is where these 150,000 5G base stations are being shipped. As more Western nations surge towards the 5G economy Nokia and Ericsson might be able to steal market share. For all we know, the 150,000 base stations are being shipped to Chinese telcos, with the other 40-odd contracts simply accounting for a few here and there.

Looking at the smartphone business, this is also remaining remarkably resilient despite the worries it will not be able to work with a number of key suppliers in the US. Google is the biggest concern as its Android operating system is unrivalled outside of the iPhone.

“In our consumer business, smartphone shipments (including Honor phones) reached 118 million units, up 24% YoY,” Liang said. “We have made great progress delivering services to our consumers across all scenarios, and have seen rapid growth in shipments of tablets, PCs, and wearables.”

Once again, the Huawei business has seemingly been able to defy trends in a way which has only associated with Apple. Smartphone shipments are declining all across the world, but in China this impact seems to be very notable. That said, no-one seems to have told Huawei.

According to Canalys, total smartphone shipments in China declined 6% year-on-year for the second quarter, though Huawei managed to increase its own sales by 31% in the market. This will explain growth in the consumer business, with Canalys suggesting 64% of its smartphone shipments in Q2 were in its domestic market.

“Huawei’s addition to the United States Entity List caused uncertainty overseas, but in China it has kept its foot on the accelerator,” said Canalys Analyst Mo Jia. “Its core strategy remains investing in aggressive offline expansion, and luring consumers from rival brands Oppo and Vivo, while unleashing a wave of marketing spend to support new channels and technologies.

“But the US-China trade war is also creating new opportunities. Huawei’s retail partners are rolling out advertisements to link Huawei with being the patriotic choice, to appeal to a growing demographic of Chinese consumers willing to take political factors into account when making a purchase decision.”

While growth is growth, if these estimates are accurate few Huawei executives will be thrilled by a dwindling influence on the global markets. Huawei might be able to be a very profitable business by focusing on its domestic market, but that is not the ambition of anyone involved; it has established a leadership position worldwide and it will not want to lose it.

For the moment, Huawei is in a healthy position. It is seemingly maintaining relationships with telcos around the world, but these are still early days. US aggression towards the vendor does not look like it will subside at any time in the near future, quite the opposite in fact. It remains a much more likely outcome this assault will intensify over the coming months, especially with President Donald Trump on the campaign trail, rousing supporters into a frenzied euphoric state of patriotism and xenophobia.

Vodafone ponders spin off of European tower business

After reporting declines in group revenues, Vodafone needed to bring some good news to the earnings call, and it seems the creation of a standalone tower business has done the job.

CEO Nick Read announced during the Q3 earnings call work had begun to legally separate the European tower infrastructure business, with plans to have the new organization up-and-running by May 2020. The team intends to monetize the tower business through an IPO or disposal of a minority stake in the next 18 months, dependent on market conditions.

“We will capture industrial efficiencies through network sharing agreements signed in multiple markets, and today we are announcing the decision to create Europe’s largest tower company,” said Read. “We believe there is a substantial opportunity to unlock the embedded value of our towers, and we have started preparations for a range of monetisation options over the next 18 months, including a potential IPO.”

Looking at the revenues, total group revenues declined by 2.3% year-on-year for the quarter to €10.6 billion, with Europe accounting for a 2.1% decline. Italy and Spain accounted for the biggest drops across the continent, though the operational challenges faced here are well-known to all. Germany and the UK both offered marginal growth, but there is hope on the horizon for these two markets.

In both the UK and Germany, Vodafone is readying itself for a more aggressive push into the convergence game with broadband offerings. In the UK, it has partnered with the rapidly expanding CityFibre and launched a 5G FWA offering, while in Germany, the recently approved Liberty Global acquisition will give it more of a presence in the cable market.

“Modest results in a challenging competitive European environment,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. The move to lead in 5G with punchy pricing gives it a perfect opportunity to gain momentum. But margins will continue to be under immense pressure with unlimited price plans.”

On the network side, Vodafone is readying itself for an expansive rollout into the 5G world. Being one of the world’s largest operators does sound nice, however the catch is that there are massive financial commitments when it comes to infrastructure overhauls, such as the one the 5G era presents. With a new network sharing partnership in the UK with O2, a tie-up with Orange in Spain and potentially one with Telecom Italia in Italy, the burden could certainly be lessened.

While this is all good news for the operations, the tower infrastructure business will steal the headlines. This is becoming an increasingly common trend in the telco world as operators look to appease the financial appetites of investors by monetizing tower infrastructure assets. On the surface, it does seem to have worked, share price has risen almost 9% in early morning trading.

“Exploring options to float or monetise infrastructure assets is becoming a fashionable play among some network operators, motivated by driving greater value from them and reducing costs,” said Kester Mann of CCS Insight.

“Better asset utilisation and driving greater efficiency has been a leading part of Vodafone CEO Nick Read’s strategy so far. The company has also established a number of 5G network-sharing deals, increased focus on online sales and customer care and replaced many legacy tariffs with new simplified plans.”

O2 sets October deadline to join the 5G race

5G launches are starting to become old news nowadays, but the UK will soon be in the enviable position of having all of its MNOs up-and-running.

O2 has confirmed the on switch will be hit during October, going live in 20 cities by the end of the year, which will be expanded to 50 by the summer of 2020. With Vodafone and EE already live, Three set to launch in a matter of weeks and O2 bringing up the rear, the 5G economy is fast-approaching in the UK.

“O2 will finally join the 5G party,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. “This feels somewhat forced upon in light of moves by the other mobile operators.

“Though O2 will be the last to offer 5G services, it is still early days as the network is not widely available. The move is good in the interests of UK and it will be one of the first countries in the world to have all mobile operators offering 5G connectivity.”

Although there are no details on pricing, we get the impression there won’t be anything adventurous or interesting here. During a press briefing the management team attempted to undermine the innovative approach Vodafone showed a couple of weeks ago with its speeds tiered approach to data tariffs, a dig which suggests it will stick with the ‘bigger, faster, meaner’ mentality, which has exhausted the patience of consumers throughout the country.

Another question which remains unanswered is whether O2’s MVNO partners will have access to the same technology, enabling them to also offer 5G services through the O2 network. Agreements have allegedly been signed, but the question of timelines for MVNO partners was met with shrugs.

One area where there is little confusion from the management team is on the radio supply side. Rivals might be getting twitchy over the Governments decision to delay any decision on Huawei, but O2 has elected to stick with its traditional suppliers Nokia and Ericsson. Huawei equipment might be installed on a dozen cell sites around the country, owing to 5G trials, but it does not appear the lack of clarity from the Supply Chain Review announcement will have any detrimental impact at O2.

On the enterprise side of connectivity, this is an area which will be up-and-running sooner rather than later. A new division, known as O2 Business, will launch on August 1, building on the momentum the MNO has been generating over the last couple of months. The enterprise market is an area of significant growth potential for O2, and it does seem to be gaining traction through its open-invitation for R&D with the FTSE 100.

Two examples of this progress include Northumbrian Water Group, we the pair are trialling 5G sensors to manage water quality and prevent leaks, and also with Network Rail for its own 5G trials. COO Derek McManus said the transport network poses one of the most significant challenges for the telco industry, with only a small percentage of tracks, those in the immediate area around stations, being genuinely commercially attractive for network deployment.

Interestingly enough, this 5G announcement will overshadow healthy financial results for the first six months of 2019. Revenues for the period grew 5.1%, while total connections running across the network (O2 and MVNO customers) has also increased to 33 million, up 3.6% year-on-year.

O2 now currently has 25.4 million customers in the UK, commanding churn rates of 0.9% over the first six months. Postpaid net additions were 41,000, a number which increases to 612,000 when you include M2M connections.

What you can expect to see from O2 over the next couple of months is a sustained approach to investment in the 4G network as well as 5G deployments. The management team has suggested consumers are more interested in a more reliable and consistent 4G experience, 31%, while only 11% of respondents to a survey state 5G is a driver for purchasing decisions.

O2 does not have the most glimmering of records when it comes to 4G, regularly battling with Three for last place in Opensignal rankings, though it will be interesting to see how the £358 million over the last six months impacts this performance. O2 has been regularly committing healthy amounts to the CAPEX column over the last 18-24 months, and hopefully this will translate into improved performance sooner rather than later.

While all the 5G launches across the UK are going to be incredibly limited in terms of coverage, we would not recommend rushing to fork out a grand for a 5G capable phone for the moment, the UK is in a very enviable position. In October, all four MNOs will have their first foot through the door, stepping into the 5G economy with the UK as a global leader. Who would have said that would have been possible three years ago?