Salt hails strong Q3 amid fiber network concerns

Swiss operator Salt Mobile, which is backed by French billionaire Xavier Niel, said it exceeded 150,000 high-speed broadband subscribers in the third quarter (Q3) of 2021 – a key milestone for a mobile operator that aims to become a converged mobile and fiber services provider in the future.

Salt currently sells fiber services under Salt Home and promises speeds of up to 10 Gbit/s for its customers. It originally launched the service in 2018 via wholesale provider Swiss Fibre Net. Then in April this year, Salt unveiled the next phase of its plan: It partnered with Swisscom to gain access to the incumbent operator's fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in future.

The agreement would give Salt access to more than 3 million households by 2025. By the end of 2020, Switzerland had about 3.9 million households in total, with a population of around 8.67 million, according to government statistics.

However, recent events mean that Salt might have to wait somewhat longer than hoped for this addition to its fiber network offer. Swisscom CEO Urs Schaeppi has warned that government objections could delay fiber rollout for years, because Swiss regulator ComCo and the Federal Administrative Court (FAC) appear to have taken issue with Swisscom's planned range of wholesale offers.

Swisscom has indicated that it will offer a Layer 1 wholesale product to Salt, because Salt is an investment partner in the fiber expansion, sharing what Swisscom calls "the associated business risks." However, those not co-investing will have to make do with a more basic Layer 3 service, renting space on Swisscom's lines and equipment.

It's not yet clear how this situation will play out. Schaeppi noted that the partnership with Salt "is currently blocked by the ruling" and said clarity is needed "as quickly as possible so that we can speed up again when it comes to the expansion of the network. It is essential that Switzerland doesn't fall behind in international comparisons due to uncertain conditions."

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This is also not the first time that Salt has encountered an obstacle in its fiber network efforts: Its previous planned joint venture with Sunrise, called Swiss Open Fiber, was dissolved following the merger of Sunrise with Liberty Global-owned cable operator UPC.

A Salt spokesperson told Light Reading that "in the short term, the fiber-optic network rollout will be delayed. This is particularly annoying for Swiss consumers. Both parties are committed to making the agreement work under the new circumstances. Salt still has great growth potential in its existing footprint, which we will exploit in the coming years."

Positive focus

In the earnings release, Salt CEO Pascal Grieder said merely that with "Salt Home in particular, we are far from having fully exploited our potential. We are committed to bringing ultra-fast Internet and TV in fiber quality to as many customers as possible in Switzerland."

Grieder chose to focus on more positive matters in the Q3 results, pointing to the fact that operating revenue increased 6.8% year-on-year to 244.1 million Swiss francs (US$263 million), while EBITDA grew by 6.3% to CHF118.7 million ($128 million), supported by subscriber growth and a recovery in roaming.

Salt added 18,600 mobile postpaid users in Q3, taking the total subscriber base to 1,359,000 by the end of September. It also pointed to the recent launches of Salt Mobile PRO, a new portfolio for SOHO businesses that is expected to drive momentum in the B2B segment; and GoMo, a purely digital mobile offer.

"We are getting better every quarter, and our customers appreciate that," Grieder claimed. "This is also evident in our revenue growth, which is significantly above market. This makes us proud, and confident that we can continue to grow in the coming quarters."

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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