Sales of mobile and fixed-line broadband data services and currency differences saved Vodafone's blushes as revenue from voice traffic slid in the first quarter of 2009.
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Reporting on first quarter results this morning, Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao said data revenue was up 19% and fixed-line revenue was 7% ahead of the comparative period, but overall results, excluding foreign exchange and other accounting effects, were down 2.4%.
Group revenue rose 9.3% to £10.7bn, thanks to foreign exchange benefits worth 8.6% and a 3.1% contribution from mergers and acquisitions. Free cash flow improved 21% to £1.9bn, helping to cut net debt to £31bn.
The firm added eight million new subscribers to bring its total user base to 315 million. Colao said India and South Africa continued to show good growth, but elsewhere the recession was pushing subscribers into cheaper package deals.
"The group continued to deliver solid growth in mobile data and fixed broadband," he said. Organic data revenue growth was 19.4%, slightly lower than the previous quarter due to less data roaming and enterprise activity. The group added more than 200,000 fixed broadband customers in Europe; fixed line revenue grew at constant exchange rates by 18.5% in Italy and 15.4% in Spain. Europe's enterprise revenue declined, reflecting the economic pressure on business customers, he said.
Colao confirmed the outlook presented in May, saying growth in free cash flow allowed it to continue investing in growth areas such as mobile data, fixed broadband and India.
He warned that second quarter results in UK would be hurt by lower mobile termination rates (the money received from third party network operators for connecting their customers to Vodafone subscribers).