UK-based mobile operator Vodafone beat market expectations yesterday and brought a smile to investors’ faces, with the announcement that it signed up 4.3 million new subscribers in the crucial three-month run-up to Christmas, making it the strongest quarter in terms of organic customer growth for three years. Vodafone ended 2003 with 130.4 million proportionate subscribers worldwide, up 16% year-on-year, beating the widespread market consensus forecasts of between 3.5 million and four million net gains. The figures were further swelled by the recent takeover of its Greek and Albanian units, and the recent purchase of UK mobile services provider Singlepoint, which together added a further 800,000 clients to lift Vodafone’s total quarterly gain to 5.1 million.
Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin said the key performance indicators marked the success of Vodafone Live! which he said ‘proved to be a real point of difference during the last quarter in many of [its] markets’. Vodafone ended the year with 4.5 million controlled Vodafone Live! customers, of which a million are based in the UK, with a further 400,000 signed up to non-controlled operations. The pre-Christmas period saw impressive sales of new colour screen and camera phone handsets across the board, and Vodafone is expected to have taken a sizeable share thanks to an intensive and extensive marketing campaign throughout Europe. Vodafone Live! is now available in 15 countries, including two associates in France and Switzerland, and will be launched in Belgium in 2004.
As well as subscriber gains, Vodafone said that average spending per user (ARPU) increased in its principal European markets. In the UK, where Vodafone reported 464,000 net additions, APRU for the year to 31 December 2003 reached GBP299, up GBP2 on the year ago period – excluding the GBP4 gain associated with its purchase of Singlepoint. In Germany, blended APRU was unchanged at EUR311, although Italy posted a EUR4 rise to EUR359. The former reported 888,000 net additions, while in Italy Vodafone said it had signed up 507,000 new customers. Moreover, data as a percentage of service revenues continued to grow, rising to 15.9% from 15.5% a year ago.