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Vodafone claims removing Huawei from its European cores will cost €200 million

Vodafone group reported solid Q4 2019 numbers for Europe but says it  will have to blow €200 million on swapping Huawei out of many of its network cores.

Group revenues were up 7% year-on-year, driven by a 10% jump in Europe, which in turn was helped by the Liberty Global acquisition. Having said that, organic service revenue growth was flat, which is probably why the Vodafone share price is unmoved by the results. An additional factor will be an unchanged outlook.

“I am pleased with the pace at which we have executed our commercial and strategic priorities, which has allowed us to maintain our momentum in the quarter,” said Group Chief Exec Nick Read. “Competition in Europe remains challenging, primarily in the value segment, however we continued to improve customer loyalty and to grow in broadband, and we achieved good growth in Africa. We expect a further gradual improvement in service revenue growth in Q4, led by Europe.

“We have recently announced the proposed sale of our stake in Vodafone Egypt, which simplifies the Group into two scaled regional platforms – Europe and sub-Saharan Africa – and reduces our net debt. We have also appointed the senior management team for our European TowerCo, and we are preparing for a potential IPO in early 2021.”

The juicy bit of the quarterly presentation concerned Huawei, inevitably, with Vodafone detailing the implications of the recent decisions made by the UK and the EU on its business. The good news is that Vodafone UK is already complying by the restrictions, so no adjustments are needed. In parts of Europe, however, there are bits of Huawei gear in the core, which will apparently cost around €200 million to rip and replace.

We spoke to telecoms Analyst John Strand and he was keen to flag up the wording on the last part of the above slide, noting the €200 million number was just a ‘position’, rather than a piece of hard accounting. He also noted that, in the UK, BT has said the cost of replacing Huawei is essentially priced into regular network investment, so why is Vodafone implying this is extra cost. That whole section of the slide could be interpreted as laying the ground to get compensation from the EU and to lobby against quotas in countries where it has a lot of Huawei in the RAN, like Germany.

Other than that, the hell that is the Indian telecoms market remains a major issue. “In October, the Supreme Court gave an adverse judgement in the adjusted gross revenue (“AGR”) case against the industry,” said the Vodafone report. “The outlook for Vodafone Idea Limited (“VIL”) remains critical. VIL is actively seeking various forms of relief from the Indian Government to ensure that the rate and level of payments it makes to the Indian Government is sustainable and it can meet its other commitments as they fall due.

“In November, the Department of Telecommunications granted a two-year spectrum moratorium to the industry. In January, the Supreme Court rejected the review petition filed by VIL and other industry participants in relation to the AGR judgement. Both VIL and Bharti Airtel Limited have subsequently filed modification petitions, which are expected to be heard imminently, to request the Court to order the Department of Telecommunications to determine a payment schedule in relation to AGR dues and other reliefs.”

So Vodafone seems to be keen on state aid pretty much everywhere. To be fair a lot of the special circumstances it finds itself in have been brought about by state activity, but it still needs to be strategic about how often it extends the begging bowl. If governments and regulators start to perceive Vodafone as excessively opportunistic, they’re likely to lose sympathy fast.

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