A spring forward for LTE with Vodafone’s Project Spring?

A look at Vodafone's latest LTE numbers shows where Project Spring is having most effect.

Vodafone’s Q1 results, for the months April, May and June 2014, are out, and we at TMN have pulled out its network information with the aim of seeing how the company’s doubling of capex for the quarter has impacted LTE service coverage.

The operator said it had invested GBP1.9 billion of its GBP19 billion Project Spring war chest in the quarter, which is twice the amount it spent in the same period 2013.

Some of that went into India and South Africa, but much went into accelerating its LTE deployments in Europe. 4,700 sites were deployed in the quarter across Europe, and an additional 2,300 2G/3G sites, the operator said.

As you can see from the table above, this acceleration was most notable in Spain, Italy and to a lesser extent in the UK. In fact although there has been a lot of investment in the quarter across Europe, in Germany the stated population coverage is exactly the same as a quarter previous. It’s a similar story in the UK and elsewhere where the needle doesn’t seem to have moved much in coverage terms in the quarter. Is it possible the investment is going into deepening capacity in areas where coverage already exists?

Another option is that the operator already made some significant coverage gains in Q1 2014 – and indeed the operator did say earlier this year it had brought forward its coverage targets in the first quarter of 2014.

Overall, Vodafone said its European coverage is now at a total 52%, up from 46% at the end of March. The company had 30% population coverage at the end of September 2013. The coverage target for 2016 is 91%.

What does that mean in terms of traffic and customer growth? Well, data growth for quarter was up 53% versus the same quarter 2013 – in other words Vodafone carried half as much data in the quarter as it did last year.

Customers? As you can see in the table above there’s still plenty of headroom for growth. Vodafone’s overall customer base in Germany, its most mature LTE market by far, is 31 million, with 1.5 million of those being LTE customers. In the UK, the company has just under a million LTE subs from a base of over 19 million. In Spain it’s a similar story, with 1 million of 13 million customers on the LTE.