Users the losers as Vodafone buys into German cable?

Jun 24, 2013

From the narrow telecom operator point of view, such a move of course makes sense for Vodafone shareholders. The European market is now saturated and the high prices mobile operators currently enjoy are on the slide partly because of regulatory intervention on roaming and termination. Ovum principal analyst, Emeka Obiodu for instance, expects "mobile telecoms revenues in Germany to fall by a compound annual growth rate of 1 per cent between 2013 and 2018."

Buying into cable gives Vodafone another way to increase its revenues in Germany. It will, says Emeka, “instantly make Vodafone the largest pay-TV provider in the country and the second largest fixed broadband provider. Vodafone is already the second largest mobile telco in Germany with 32.4 million customers."

A combined Vodafone Kabel Deutschland, however, is highly unlikely to do anything positive for the broader German market or its users. Germany already has some of the highest mobile prices in Europe and a market utterly dominated by its big players - Vodafone and DT. As a consequence its digital economy is one of Europe's weakest with high smartphone tariffs and restrictive data volumes - very similar to the US market.

The consequence of that is smartphone penetration below the EU average (according to Finnish consultancy, Rewheel, see - Single telecoms market by 2015? Be very afraid) and at about half the level in the Nordic states where smartphone tariffs are (guess what?) about half the level too.

What does that particular set of mobile numbers have to do with fixed broadband ownership? Plenty.

Owning substantial fixed broadband not only gives the mobile network owner an enhanced ability to control the relative user advantages of fixed and mobile services by better controlling pricing, it also confers the magic churn-stopper of multi-play packaging. In Vodafone's own explanation for the KD purchase, it will enable the mobile operator to go multiplay.

"Vodafone will have 32.4 million mobile, 5.0 million broadband and 7.6 million direct TV customers in Germany".. and ... "sees significant potential to accelerate the growth in Vodafone’s and Kabel Deutschland’s broadband, telephony and TV businesses by leveraging Vodafone’s leading brand and extensive distribution and by cross-selling to each company’s customer base."

Lots of 'leveraging' and other jargon in there, but basically if you sell a customer a bundle of services - or at the very least cross-promote with discounts - you have a customer that's much less likely to churn to a lower-cost mobile provider (or a cable customer much less likely to cord-cut and move to satellite, say). In this way the German market can actually become less competitive on price and remain a marketing and advertising struggle between similar-weight giants who spend as much time 'cooperating' as really competing.

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