Smartphones

Bell vs Rogers Q3 2012

Bell vs Rogers Q3 2012

Bell and Rogers had very different wireless results.

Gross Adds

Overall gross was down y/y for both companies, but this appears to be a strategic shift away from lower value prepaid subscribers.  Postpaid gross was marginally up for both Bell 373k ( y/y growth 0.1%) and Rogers 386k (y/y growth 1.6%) for the third quarter, but the big difference came in postpaid nets.

Net Adds

Bell’s postpaid nets adds grew 17.1% y/y to hit 148.5k for the quarter.  This was almost double Rogers at 76k postpaid nets (growth of 2.7%) despite higher gross.  Much of this was on the back of much improved churn.

Churn

Rogers postpaid churn improved 2bps to 1.34% for the quarter but Bell’s improved a whopping 30bps to 1.2%.  This meant that postpaid churn volume for Bell dropped 14k to 231 in the quarter, while Rogers postpaid churn volume was flat at 306k postpaid churners.  This is the most significant churn improvement we have seen in any carrier in North America for Q3.

In the investor call, George Cope credited John Watson with improvements in customer service for the dramatic change in churn.  He also said that they are getting more share of enterprise customers who also churn less.    We also notice a 20% y/y increase in retention spend and a flawless iPhone 5 launch.  (TELUS and Rogers both struggled to activate iPhone 5s, although George Cope dismissed this as not significant).   Whatever you did keep doing it.

Financials

Bell also blew the lights out on the financial results.  While they still trail Rogers in terms of Revenue, EBITDA and margins, they showed a significant improved y/y, closing this gap quicker than expected.   Bell’s service revenue grew 6.4% to $1,307m while Rogers grew 2.2% to $1,744m.  Bell’s EBITDA margin grew 322bps to 42.4% to deliver $554m EBITDA while Rogers Adjusted Operating Profit margin grew 0.71% to a record 48.3% producing $843m AOP.

Conclusion

Fantastic quarter for Bell’s wireless division, they invested more CAPEX, loaded more postpaid smartphones, saved more churners and improved margins.  Rogers have a bit more work cut out for them.

More detailed analysis after TELUS has reported.

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Bell Q2 2012 Results

Bell Q2 2012 Results

Wow, another great quarter from Bell.  They really seem to be executing at a new level.  I bet the private equity firms who were going to buy BCE are kicking themselves right now?

Gross Adds

Gross adds were good for Q2, although down 10% Y/Y and down 4% for postpaid gross, but so were Rogers (down 14% and down 7%postpaid) and TELUS (down 12% and down 8% postpaid).

 

Net Adds

Overall Nets were up a healthy 29% up at 47,208 which was significantly better than Rogers and TELUS who both has lower nets Y/Y.  But one should take into account that Postpaid Nets were only up 8% at 102,067 and that the lower net losses on prepaid drove most of the overall net growth.  Bell has now had 10 consecutive quarters of negative nets in prepaid.  In fact the prepaid base is shrinking so quickly, it is improving blended churn and blended ARPU metrics.  By comparison, Rogers was down 70% Y/Y for overall nets and down 19% for postpaid nets, from 108,000 to 87,000.   A solid adds quarter for Bell considering the market.

 

Churn

Blended churn improved dramatically from 2.0% last Q2 to 1.7%, the lowest since Q2 09, or 12 quarters!  This is a very good result, but before we celebrate too much, both Rogers and TELUS (Q2-11:1.67% down to Q2-12:1.39%) also enjoyed good churn improvements, suggesting that there might be more than meets the eye.  Firstly since Bell has a much small base of prepaid subscribers, their impact on blended churn is less.  Or calculations suggest that as much as 25bps of blended churn can be attributed to the shrinking prepaid base.  Secondly and more significantly, we believe there were few churners in many carriers, including Verizon and AT&T who had their best churn numbers in many years.  We think this is the iPhone 5 effect.  Despite enormous success, many Androidphiles waited for the prices to drop on the Samsung Galaxy S III, which is probably the best phone ever made…so far.  At $700 without a contract and over $200 on a three year contract, the Samsung Galaxy S III is still a very expensive Android device.  A recent survey showed that up to 90% of current iPhone users intend to upgrade to an iPhone 5.  So anyone who has an Apple device did not move carrier this quarter.  The same goes for RIM, where loyal RIM users see no reason to change carriers until a new RIM device emerges.  We suspect they will wait for BB10 before moving.  If we assume that Apple has about 30% market share a year ago and RIM 40%, at least 70% of smartphone users are playing a waiting game.  So we believe that all the smartphone churn was probably subscribers leaving RIM to go to Android?

Blended Churn Share Incumbents Bell

Bell’s share of blended churn increase sequentially but was down y/y

In a quarter where all carriers move in the same direction, share is often the best way to determine the winners and losers.  From a share of churn perspective, Bell and TELUS were down Y/Y but only Bell was up sequentially over Q1.  The pattern is the same, but more dramatic in postpaid churn.  Bell’s share of postpaid churn was up to 34.1% (Q2-11 was 32.8% and Q1-12 was 32.4%).  While Rogers still lost the most postpaid customers, they have a larger base.  See the charts.

Postpaid Churn Share Incumbents

Bells share of postpaid churn increases

 

 

ARPU

Blended ARPU was up a healthy 4.5% of blended ARPU growth.  Bell says a combination of lower voice and higher data revenue growth of 31.1% pushed the Blended ARPU higher.  While we are impressed with the data growth, the voice declines are not good news especially considering that Bell had an unusually good quarter in terms of MoU improvement of 7% Y/Y bringing this metric North of 300 for the first time since Q3 2009.  As with churn, some of the Blended ARPU improvement can be attributed to a smaller prepaid base.  We have not done the math yet, but will update once we have.  Either way, ARPU growth is always a good thing especially when Rogers is experiencing ARPU declines in the same market conditions.

 

Revenue and EBITDA

Revenue was up 6.7%, mainly due to more subscribers, more smartphones and more data usage.  Bell’s wireless EBITDA grew a huge 20.9% to $556m.  This is a fantastic result.  Bell says it is the best since Q1-07, but this might actually be the best ever?  Don’t forget that this was on the back of lower gross and churn, improving both COA and COR spend.  COA per subscriber was also lower and Bell has been working hard at their costs.  A great result, well done.

Conclusion

A great quarter, difficult to find anything wrong with it.  Well done.

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Wireless results summary – Canada – Q1 2012

Wireless results summary – Canada – Q1 2012

Well, now that all of the incumbents have reported, it is worth looking at how they did against each other.  Who won the quarter?  TELUS, followed by Bell with Rogers a distant third.  But that is just our opinion, it really depends how you measure.

The chart below is a summary of the last 5 quarters.  Although this is just a snap-shot and these metrics are not really equal in weight, these are the main metrics that the street and executives focus on in determining how they are doing compared with both the past and each other.

Rogers Bell TELUS key metrics summary

Key metrics summary

At first glance Rogers still rules the roost with 5/9 first places, but TELUS has started to win where it counts, Postpaid Nets, Churn, ARPU and EBITDA Margin.  We were pretty concerned when we saw that Rogers loaded 334K Gross Postpaid, but only grew their postpaid base by 47K subscribers.  Seems like a pretty uneconomical way of growing compared with TELUS who came in third with only 257 Postpaid Gross, but the highest postpaid nets at 63K.

 

So let’s look behind the superficial numbers to see what is going on and why the incumbents are going in different directions:

Gross

With more points of presence and no longer struggling for iPhone 4Ss, Rogers blew the lights out with 33k Gross Postpaid and 154K Gross Prepaid.  Rogers has more points of presence, probably close to 1,500 with third party, specialists, Wireless Wave, dealers and corporate stores.  TELUS on the other hand has few points of presence and does not benefit from wireless wave, which in our humble opinion is the best of the specialist channels.

Wireless Gross Share Bell Rogers TELUS Q1 2012

Wireless Gross Share Q1 2012 (Incumbents)

Nets

With a relatively modest gross numbers and high churn, both Rogers and Bell had negative nets.   We have tracked the incumbents quarterly since the beginning of 2005, but our data goes back more than another ten years and we have not seen negative nets for any incumbent let alone two.  This was admittedly driven by prepaid losses and Q1 has been net negative for the incumbents since 2007.  But with significantly smaller prepaid bases than postpaid, it is unusal to lose so many prepaid subs that it impacts your overall number.

wireless prepaid incumbent nets Q1

wireless prepaid incumbent nets Q1

Also the fighter brands of chatr, Koodo and Virgin have breathed new life into prepaid, so this certainly looks like a big win for the AWS new entrants.  Since Videotrons numbers were not crazy high at 22k nets, and WIND was much lower than expected at 12K nets, assuming that Mobilicity was also around 10K, this means that the total nets of the new entrants beat the total nets of the incumbents, albeit mainly on the back of significantly lower ARPU customers.

Incumbent wireless net share

Incumbent wireless net share

 

Postpaid nets were positive, but flat compared with last Q1 while the overall industry grew.  Note that Bell dropped from 81K in Q1 2011 to 63K in Q1 2012.   Rogers was flat year over year and TELUS grew by 11K in postpaid nets.  Some of this is by design, as it is dangerous to try to get Q1 volume by extending the Christmas discounts into Q1.  This should be a good quarter to keep your powder dry on COA and bank some EBITDA.

wireless postpaid nets share incumbents Q1 2012

wireless postpaid nets share incumbents Q1 2012

 

Churn

Churn was the divisive metric this quarter.   Rogers was ghastly – Blended churn moving from 1.71% a year ago to 1.83% and in the process moving from the best of the incumbents to worst churn in 5 quarters.   Bell was modestly better, improving from 1.9% to 1.84%, but some of this was driven by having so few prepaid subscribers left.  Bell’s postpaid churn also improved, from 1.4% to 1.35%, but since their base has grown, this still meant more actual postpaid subscriber churning, up from 219K in Q1 2011 to 231K this quarter.  TELUS enjoyed a marked improvement in churn, where blended churn came down from 1.7% to 1.55% year over year.

Wireless percentage churn Q1 2012

Wireless percentage churn Q1 2012

In postpaid absolute churners reduced from 220K (same as Bell) to 194K.  These are great churn numbers and we did not see a commensurate pickup in retention to achieve this – retention spend for TELUS was down 6% at $138m.

Churn numbers by volume

Churn numbers by volume

Smartphones

Smartphones continued in a phenomenal way, although we did hear some tempered comments on the conference calls, in particular, Rogers seemed to have slipped from ARPU of 2X non-smartphone to 1.9X and now to 1.8X.  At the same time the non-smartphone ARPU for Rogers has also been declining.   They suggested in the past that they expected cheaper smartphones that would reduce their requirement for the huge COA investment, but this has not happened.  What has happened is that lower end smartphones are unsurprisingly attracting lower end subscribers, who are more likely to be price sensitive, spend less and have a higher propensity to churn.   The smartphone share chart show the decline of Rogers and the rise of Bell and TELUS following from a level playing field in handsets and the significantly better network coverage and quality that the Bell/TELUS network partnership offers.

 

EOP

EOP was largely unchanged mainly because of the Bell and Rogers negative nets.  There were share changes though.   In EOP postpaid market share, Rogers dropped to the lowest (38.5%) since Q4 2005.  TELUS and Bell both gained share.

Postpaid total subscribers share

Postpaid total subscribers share

ARPU

All three incumbents have had declining voice ARPU for some time.  This is partly due to re-price, which has been more relevant at Rogers, partly due to Smartphone LTOs resulting for a more competitive market, but also from a reduction in voice minutes.  The reduction is voice minutes is partly behavior changes – customers spending more time communicating via email, text, IM and so many other social media platforms, but also a change in demographics, where younger customers are more likely to have a high end smartphone, but can’t afford the high end voice plan.

blended ARPU wireless incumbents

Blended ARPU wireless incumbents

 

Rogers average price per minute dropped suddenly with the introduction of chatr.  Bell and TELUS have trended down, but not at the same rate.

The text-voice substitution is marked as the smartphone penetration rates increase, voice revenue declines.  Although we have not read anything about VoIP using the carriers networks, there are many solutions that offer this and the 3/4G networks are more than capable of offering high quality calls over the data network at a fraction of the price.  We expect significantly more pressure on voice in the foreseeable future.  TELUS had another quarter (6 consecutive quarters) of ARPU growth to $58.87.  Voice decreased 10%, but data grew 29% resulting in an overall growth of 1.7%.

WIND reported a 2.2% increase in ARPU, but at $27.30, this still significantly lower than where it should be in our opinion.  This is less than half the incumbent ARPU, which does not sound sustainable.

Revenue and EBITDA

Overall Incumbent service revenue grew nearly 4%, Rogers was down marginally, Bell was up 6% and TELUS up 7%.   But all were well below the average of over 7.5% year over year growth average from 2007-present.  There was an overall decline in hardware revenue of 9% based on lower handset sales, this is normal for Q1.

Incumbents share of industry EBITDA

Incumbents share of industry EBITDA

 

Bell and TELUS grew their EBITDA at 13%, while Rogers EBITDA declined 9%, giving an incumbent average of just of 3% in EBITDA growth.   EBITDA share for Rogers declined to 2006 levels.

Summary

We really thought Bell had a good quarter, until we saw the TELUS results.  TELUS seems to be operating at a level of detail that is absent from the others.   Rogers had a very poor quarter and the new entrants failed to capitalize on incumbent weaknesses in gross loading and churn.

 

 

 

 

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TELUS Wireless Results Q1 2012

TELUS Wireless Results Q1 2012

This was an exceptional quarter for wireless at TELUS.  We were very impressed with Bell’s wireless numbers, but it seems like TELUS has trumped them on almost every number.  To really understand how well the companies are doing, we find comparing them with each other more useful than comparing themselves with previous quarters, which is the tradition.   This assumes the past is a predictor of the future, which it is not.

Gross Adds

Gross adds were down for TELUS y/y but despite significantly less distribution still delivered 363k which is respectable for a first quarter, which is always lower in gross.  This was 6% lower than the previous year. Gross Postpaid at 257K also declined, by 5.5%.  TELUS share of gross in the incumbents was 29.3% vs. last year’s Q1 at 29.6%.

Net Adds

Overall Net Adds were down 31% to 22k on the back of a 105% increase in prepaid losses.  All incumbents lost prepaid subscribers, which is a seasonal effect.

wireless prepaid nets Rogers Bell TELUS Q1 2012

Prepaid Nets Q1 2012

TELUS has had negative nets in prepaid for the last 3 first quarters.  Postpaid Net Adds were up a healthy 21% on the back of very good retention and churn numbers.   Interestingly TELUS spent 6% less on retention than a year ago, suggesting that their networks, brand and customer service are keeping customers without the need to purchase their loyalty.  With Bell and Rogers having negative nets, TELUS was the only incumbent that grew its subscriber base in the quarter, suggesting a big quarter for the new entrants.  Perhaps we can see WIND and Public beat 100K nets and Mobilicity beat 50K?

Smartphones

TELUS had a great quarter for smartphones, loading 19% more smartphones or 175k over the previous Q1 at 147k.  This brings the total smartphone base to 56% of postpaid subscribers.

Churn

Blended churn was 1.55% down from 1.70% a year ago.  This is a tremendous achievement considering how the other incumbents have experienced more pressure.  While the absolute number of postpaid subscribers increased close to 6% for Bell and Rogers, TELUS reduced the number of postpaid churns by nearly 12%.

EOP

TELUS grew it EOP by a modest .3%, but this was better than the subscriber losses of Bell and Rogers.  Postpaid EOP was up just over 1% sequentially.

Postpaid Canada incumbent subscriber growth

Growth starts to slow for the incumbents

ARPU

TELUS Blended ARPU grew, while Rogers declined, keeping TELUS at the top of the ARPU leaderboard for the second straight quarter.  AT $58.87, this is industry leading ARPU with a significant $22.83 coming from data.  Clearly TELUS is attracting the high end smartphone subscribers that the incumbents all say they are getting and we can see the impact in their accretive ARPU.

Revenue and EBITDA

Network revenue was up 7% at $1.288bn, a great Q1 performance.  Margins grew over 5% or 2.5pts to deliver industry leading EBITDA of $622m.

Summary

This was a fantastic quarter for TELUS.  They have showed that despite fewer points of distribution, that better execution can turn fewer gross into more nets, delivering better in quarter EBITDA without having to invest incremental COA in new customers or having to invest more in retention spend to prevent churn.  A lower gross, lower churn, higher nets model will reward them with significantly better financial results to come.

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Bell vs. Rogers – Smartphones

Bell vs. Rogers – Smartphones Q1 2012

Big increases in Bell smartphones

In Q1 2012, Bell made a huge leap forward in smartphones.   Rogers said they had such a big quarter of smartphone loads because of iPhone 4S shortages in Q4 2011, yet Bell loaded 523K smartphones to Rogers 640K smartphones in the quarter.  Bell increased 45% in volume of smartphone loads vs. Rogers 20% compared to Q1 2011.  And Bell was up 47% over Q4 2011 while Rogers was down nearly 20% over Q4 211.  But it was Rogers that complained of iPhone shortages?  This is a huge change!

Bell v Rogers smartphone war

Bell winning on smartphones

But made sure they were value enhancing

Bell went from 34% smartphones to 52% in one year, while Rogers went from 45% to 70% in the same period.  So Rogers actually grew their smartphone base faster.  But looking at the relative spends on retention, Bell could be getting new smartphone customers who are ARPU accretive vs. Rogers who are upgrading existing smartphone users, perhaps to new rate plans which are value destroying, hence the difference in smartphone ARPU trends.   Since Bell did not disclose this number, so we can’t be sure, but either way, I think there is more value in an operator with lower smartphone penetration and increasing ARPU, rather than Rogers with declining ARPU and 70% smartphone penetration.

 

 

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Bell Wireless Results Q1 2012

Bell Wireless Results Q1 2012

Bell’s wireless results were fantastic.  Both in terms of metrics and financials, Bell really did well in Q1 2012.  Until TELUS reports, we cannot be 100% sure, but it looks like in an overall market that we relatively flat in terms of gross adds, Bell focused on postpaid subscribers in business and out West, to bring home a great quarter.  This indicates an exceptional example of delivering to plan, where execution must have been harmonic to be able to achieve the following three metrics together:

Gross Adds

Postpaid gross was down but only 2% down, (Rogers was up) but still better than five out of the last six Q1 postpaid gross results.  Prepaid gross was down a whopping 24% over Q1 2011, confirming Bell strategy to focus on the more lucrative postpaid business.

Net Adds

Net losses (21,327) were not good due to huge losses in prepaid subscribers and postpaid

Rogers and Bell Prepaid Nets Q1 2012

Incumbent prepaid nets in Q1 2007-2012

net adds were 22.4% lower at 62,576.  The lower postpaid nets was driven by a combination of lower postpaid gross and postpaid churn of 231,000 subscribers.

Churn

Prepaid unsurprisingly got worse at 3.9% but postpaid churn improved in terms of percentage from 1.41% to 1.35%.  This is very impressive but especially since we did not see a huge retention spend (approximately $120m) and this improved sequentially from 1.52% in Q4 2011.  A dramatic turnaround in one quarter indeed.  Churn still remains our biggest concern with Bell, but if they can turn this into a trend, that would be exciting for shareholders.

EOP

Postpaid EOP growth was slow at 2.2% versus Q1 2011 when it was 5.2%, but this was largely driven by higher churn (lower percentage of a bigger base lead to 231K postpaid subscribers leaving vs. Q1 2011 where only 219K left.  Even Rogers with dire results grew at 3.3% off of a large gross loading number and lower postpaid percentage churn.

Revenue & EBITDA

Revenue was up 5.1% (6% for service revenue which is the important number) and EBITDA up a very impressive 13% on widening margins, which grew y/y from 36.9% to 39.5%, nearly breaking the key threshold of 40%.  In the call they said they had 500 fewer employees in wireless, but this does not account for all of the improvement.  They must have executed both their hardware subsidies and their smartphone upgrades incredibly well since retention spend and COA were still very modest.

Impact on New entrants (WIND, Mobilicity & Public)

Looking at a combination of Bell and Rogers, the incumbents have already lost 50% more prepaid subscriber than the total for Q1 2011.  This bodes well for new entrant loading.  Assuming they do not have high churn numbers, we should see significant net and EOP gains for the new entrants.

Summary

Comparing this quarter with Q1 2011, Bell did really well.  It will be interesting to see how TELUS does as this will really tell us who executed best in what looks to have been a competitive quarter.   Great quarter – well done.

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Rogers Q1 Results – smartphones

Rogers Q1 Results – smartphones

This week Rogers released their results.  Overall we think the market was not expecting good results, so they mostly met expectations.  Nothing was tragic and we will write about their results in greater detail later, but we did notice some changes in smartphones:

1.  This quarter a large percentage of the smartphone loads were in fact upgrades rather than new customers.  This tells us that despite claiming the first and largest LTE network and the best array of smartphones, they did not manage to steal smartphone share and had to upgrade a huge number of existing customers to keep them from churning?

Q1 2012 Rogers smartphone loads

Rogers smartphone loads - new and upgrades

2.  Each call the metrics on smartphones creep down.  First smartphone customers produced 2x the ARPU of non-smartphone customers, then 1.9x, this call that slipped further to 1.8x a non-smartphone subscriber.

3.  Rogers always claims that smartphone customers have materially lower churn than non-smartphone customers and this quarter they went further to say not only do they have lower churn, but it is more ‘stable churn’ – does this mean they predictably churn?  If smartphone customers churn less and they are now at 70% smartphone penetration (up front 45% in Q1 2011), why did postpaid churn go up from 1.23% to 1.26%?

4.  Finally data ARPU is starting to slow – big time – our back of the envelope calculations suggest that in Q1 2011 smartphone data revenue was over $18 per smartphone, a year later data revenue per smartphone had dropped to $13 per smartphone.  This looks like a combination of reprice, LTOs, mix changes and changing habits away from SMS.

Despite all this negative data, Rogers still seems convinced that things are heading in the right direction with smartphones – we will watch with interest.

 

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