Vodafone NZ boss Jason Paris tweeted on Friday that his company's international roaming traffic had all but disappeared.
He posted, "The Vodafone networks are holding up well. It's costing us a lot more to keep up with demand but unfortunately we've got a lot less [revenue] coming in due to all travel stopping."
The reason is obvious. The company's wholesale and infrastructure director Tony Baird said the same day: "International travel has reduced to essentially zero so it's inevitable this will also mean international roaming is down 99 per cent, from both an inbound and outbound perspective."
The @vodafoneNZ networks are holding up well. It’s costing us a lot more to keep up with demand but unfortunately we’ve got a lot less coming in due to all travel stopping. That won’t stop us investing to keep NZ connected. #StaySafe #StayConnected https://t.co/h1Fa8F2QEj— Jason Paris (@JasonCParis) April 2, 2020
But how much does that translate to in revenue terms, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talking about tight border controls lasting until a vaccine is produced - a development that many experts say could take 12 to 18 months?
None of the players break out what they earn from roaming.
But telecommunications analyst Peter Wise points to a Commerce Commission survey of retail telcos for the 2019 financial year, which found Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees roaming revenue of $114 million ($90.7m from Kiwis roaming offshore, the balance from travellers to NZ).
The regulator did not break that down by telco, but going by the market share figures in its latest Annual Telecommunications Monitoring report, that would break down to roughly $45.6m for Spark, $43.3m for Vodafone and $25.1m for 2degrees on an annualised basis.
Those numbers have to be put in context. Spark had total revenue last year of $3.5 billion, and Vodafone NZ $2b, while 2degrees clocked $805.9m in its most recently reported year (2018).
But while roaming is a niche, it's a lucrative one, Wise says.
He adds, the border closure is "a double whammy for mobile operators. New Zealanders aren't travelling, so revenues from Kiwis roaming overseas will be well down. There are also very few tourists in New Zealand, so the lucrative, high margin revenues that NZ mobile operators receive for the calls that tourists make while roaming in New Zealand will also be significantly reduced."
By just how much depends, of course, on how long border restrictions last.
Vodafone, Spark, 2degrees and Vocus (owner of Orcon and Slingshot) also face extra costs from giving all of their customers unlimited data at no cost during the lockdown, plus measures such as pledging no disconnection fees, and no disconnections due to financial hardship over the months ahead (sparking a spat with Chorus over who will carry what share of the can for an anticipated " wall of bad debt ").
And on the network side, Chorus has put a CPI-indexed wholesale price increase on hold, and offered to help connect some 50,000 school children in low-income households by waiving wholesale fees (Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees have responded to a Ministry of Education request for help from a different direction, with each seeing an emphasis on fixed-wireless broadband, which would cut Chorus out of the loop).
Chorus has also suspended most fieldwork, including non-urgent repairs and new UFB fibre connections.
On the upside (for telco revenue), the unlimited data offers have not been extended to mobile plans - where data demand has also surged.
Vodafone - which bought dominant rural ISP Farmside in 2018 - has also stopped short of extending its unlimited fixed-broadband offer to rural users, although shortly after the lockdown began it did go part-way by recently introducing unlimited data between midnight and 9am.
And many companies are spending more on telecommunications as they retool their networks for an open-ended period of mass remote working.
Spark shares have proved relatively resilient during the Covid-19 crisis.
Its stock has fallen from $4.93 (a 52-week high) on March 9 to is closing price Friday of $4.23, but is still up 16.3 per cent for the year.
Jarden said the modest tumble (as Covid-19 wipeouts go) merely brought Spark inline with its valuation, and upgraded Spark.
Chorus shares jumped to an all-time high of $7.61 on March 6. Despite a recent pullback to $6.95, the stock is still up 15.6 per cent for the year. Bulls see demand for broadband persisting through any crisis, and are looking forward to fatter dividends as the heavy-spending days of the UFB rollout come to a close. The more cautious note competition risk (from Spark and Vodafone's fixed-broadband) and regulatory risk (from the Commerce Commission as it finalises Chorus's revenue cap and other parameters of the post-UFB landscape) lie ahead.
The situation with Vodafone NZ and 2degrees is less clear, due to both being intertwined with wider groups.
NZX-listed Infratil, which bought 50 per cent of Vodafone NZ last year, has seen its shares fall from $5.09 on March 6 to a recent $4.12 - but the group's mixed infrastructure assets include those, like Wellington Airport, with a much blunter exposure to the crisis. It is down 3.5 per cent for the year.
2degrees' Toronto-listed parent, Trilogy International Partners, has seen its stock suffer only a small dip since March 6, from C$1.62 to C$1.59. But is shares were already well down, having been at C$3.23 in July last year before falling sharply on concerns about unrest in Bolivia - home of Trilogy's other major telco asset, NuevaTel.