Vodafone's gloomy outlook today does not really surprise me. What surprises me is that the City doesn't appear to have priced in what seems apparent to everyone I meet: that margins in the cellular business are going to face continuing pressure, despite the promise of whiz-bang new services and networks.
Voda is blaming its future difficulties on high levels of mobile penetration (exactly why this is surprising is beyond me, it's hardly as if its suddenly happened), and falling termination rates. Its continuing problems in Japan aren't helping in the short-term either.
Which is interesting, as it tells me that the likely additional pain from IP-derived pressure on roaming, plus price erosion for indoor and fixed "nomadic" use of mobile phones is not yet priced in.
Basically, customers (and competitors / substitutes) are waking up to the fact that the "mobile premium" on voice pricing is only acceptable when you're actually mobile - ie moving around. If you're stationary, sitting at home in or in the office, all that cool cell-to-cell handover technology in the network has zero value to you. And, increasingly, there will be ways to avoid paying for it in those cases.
At the moment, the IP-based options to play arbitrage games (like dual-mode phones) are still clunky, but they're evolving in various guises over the next few years. Other cellular-only options will also give lower-priced indoor phone calls. Voda itself has a "HomeZone" type service in Germany, offering low-cost calls ostensibly to substitute for fixed-line voice, but also to compete with O2's successful Genion product.
This is why conferences like last week's Wireless VoIP event are so telling - it's the cellular carriers that have the defensive presentations, talking about blocking VoIP, or pricing data traffic to mitigate the risk of Skype. It's also why I think the more aggressive fixed/mobile hybrid operators will be the ones to benefit from new network architectures like IMS.
I'm chairing this event on next-generation networks tonight, so if anyone's around, say hello.