Mobile operator Vodafone has reported a better-than-expected rise in first-quarter service revenue as more stores reopened and tourism made a tentative return following last year's Covid-19 disruption.

Chief Executive Nick Read said the company was back to service revenue growth in Europe as well as Africa as it reported a 3.3% rise in service revenue.

"This growth was broad-based within both consumer and business segments, with the vast majority of our markets contributing," he said.

Vodafone's revenue growth beat analysts' forecasts of a 1.4% rise.

Nick Read said Vodafone's retail footfall across its four largest markets was up 70% year-on-year but still 40% below pre-Covid levels.

Roaming and visitor revenue also made only a partial recovery, up 56% on last year when strict Covid-19 restrictions were in place in Europe but 54% lower than pre-pandemic levels.

"The recovery was never going to be linear," Read told reporters.

"We would like to think that when we get to September and the back to school season that we are largely in a more normalised environment. But it won't be normal, it will be normalising," he added.

The company said it maintained momentum in its biggest market Germany, with growth accelerating to 1.4% compared to 1.2% in the fourth quarter.

Both Britain and Spain returned to quarter-on-quarter growth as Covid-19 restrictions eased.

Continued competition in Italy resulted in a 3.6% decline, against a 7.8% decline in the previous quarter.

Vodafone reported strong growth in Africa, where its financial platform M-Pesa saw transaction volumes increase 45% year-on-year.

The group said it was on track to deliver its full-year targets of €15-15.4 billion in adjusted earnings and at least €5.2 billion in free cash flow.

Meanwhile, Vodafone Ireland said its first quarter service revenue showed an annual growth rate of 2.1%.

Vodafone said its total fixed broadband customer base increased 4.3% year-on-year to 301,200, while its mobile contract customer base increased by 17,000 over the quarter.

During the quarter, Vodafone said that its entire Irish operation is now completely powered by renewable energy, well ahead of the original 2025 target for achieving this.

Vodafone Ireland also became the first operator here to offer consumer customers eSIMs on 25 of its top devices.

eSIMs are virtual SIM cards that provide the same service as a physical SIM card, but with the data stored in a few lines of code on a dedicated chip, rather than on a plastic SIM which reduces carbon emissions by eliminating the need to manufacture and ship the associated plastic.

Anne O'Leary, CEO of Vodafone Ireland, said the company was pleased with the positive performance in the last quarter, particularly as the company continues to face challenges arising from the pandemic.

"As a business, we pride ourselves on operating at the cutting edge of technology, but also on increasing our positive social impact," Ms O'Leary said.

"We were therefore delighted to announce, over the period, that our network is now entirely green, powered by electricity from 100% renewable sources. This is a major landmark on our journey in Ireland to achieve 'net zero’ carbon emissions by 2030, and helping our customers reduce their own environmental footprint, while continuing to build an inclusive and sustainable digital society across Ireland," she added.