War has a limited impact on the telecom sector
European- and US-based telecom operators are rather insulated from the conflict in Ukraine. Major operators have no sales in the region, the exception being VEON, which is largely exposed, since it is active in Russia and Ukraine. Telekom Austria had only 7.4% of its FY 2021 revenues coming from Belarus. For now, the impact of the war seems limited, with most companies maintaining their 2022 outlook.
Typically, demand for telecom services grows in line with GDP. If a severe recession would hit the global economy, telecom operators and handset vendors probably have to adjust revenue expectations in line with GDP expectations, on average. In Europe, however, service revenues have historically already been under pressure because of strong competition. We do not foresee a substantial impact on the financial solidity of companies resulting from this crisis.
The biggest risk for the sector comes from cyberwarfare
The biggest risk for the sector comes from cyberwarfare. State sponsored hackers could engage at some point in cyberwarfare, something the US government warns about. Hackers could try to impair (local) infrastructure, while telecom companies have to up their defenses. Interestingly, so far, we have seen limited impact from cyberwarfare that could possibly have been initiated as a part of the war in Ukraine.
However, we are starting to see revenue stabilisation in a couple of markets. For example, the market leaders in the Dutch, French, Belgian and German markets are close to revenue stabilisation. This is mainly driven by new broadband products, which are often offered with mobile services in a bundled product. Restructuring programmes continue to modernise the back-office of the operators and to phase out legacy technologies. Once programmes are over, this could be a tailwind for profitability. Despite good traction from bundled products and new high ARPU fibre products, many incumbents have segments that see price pressure, often in the business segments. This explains why we see positive trends in the sector, while revenues are not showing strong positive growth rates.