Swiss Salt steers steady course in Q3

Swiss operator Salt remained in a confident mood even though it still took something of a battering from COVID-19 in the third quarter of 2020.

Although it described the July-September period as the "best quarter in six years" in terms of mobile subscriber growth, the Iliad-owned operator said revenue was adversely affected by a decrease in roaming income because of travel restrictions linked to the pandemic.

Operating revenue in Q3 2020 fell by 2.2% year-on-year to CHF212.3 million (US$233.7 million). EBITDA was 3% lower at CHF111.7 million ($123 million). Excluding the effect of its tower sales to tower company Cellnex in 2019, operating revenue fell by 2% and EBITDA grew by 0.4%.

Picture this: Despite coronavirus, Salt saw the best subscriber growth in six years.  (Source: Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash)
Picture this: Despite coronavirus, Salt saw the best subscriber growth in six years.
(Source: Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash)

In May 2019, Cellnex struck a €700 million ($834 million) deal to take a 90% stake in the company that runs 2,800 sites for Salt, and it agreed to build up to 500 more sites across Switzerland.

The Q3 results were an improvement on Q2, when operating revenue fell 4.5% excluding the effect of the tower sales, and EBITDA was 3.8% lower.

In the first nine months as a whole, total revenue excluding the tower deal fell 2.8% to CHF626.9 million ($690 million) and EBITDA was up 0.6% at CHF315 million ($347 million).

Pascal Grieder, CEO of Salt, said the pandemic has posed great challenges this year.

"Nevertheless, we have consistently pursued our strategy and further improved our products and services. In Q3, we experienced a strong and healthy core business momentum," he said.

"This growth is very encouraging and makes me confident for the future."

Relations with Sunrise not so sunny

Salt also quietly launched 5G services during the third quarter, and said it is now providing 4.5Gbit/s speeds at no extra charge to all customers.

The operator also said it is seeking financial investors to help expand its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) footprint.

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In May this year, it formed Swiss Open Fiber as a joint venture (JV) company in partnership with rival operator Sunrise Communications. The aim is to build an FTTH network covering 1.5 million households over the next five to seven years.

However, relations between the two rivals turned sour after Sunrise was acquired by Liberty Global's UPC Switzerland. Salt argued that Sunrise was breaking the terms of the Swiss Open Fiber JV and took the matter to court.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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