Sir Richard Branson’s mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), Virgin Mobile, has reported its strongest Q2 performance since it was launched in 1999, adding 231,554 new customers, an increase of 35% over the second quarter of 2002, to take its total customer base to 2.878 million. The positive figures follow similar growth in the first quarter when the cellco added more net customers than any of the other five networks – Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, O2 and 3. Virgin Mobile expects to see a similarly strong performance for Q3. The operator’s financial performance for the quarter has also been promising, with annual ARPU standing at GBP135 and EBITDA reaching GBP42 million for the first six months, compared with a full-year EBITDA of GBP16 million in 2002.
Virgin Mobile attributes the strong growth to customers switching to its service from other mobile networks. Its MVNO status means that it provides services to customers over T-Mobile’s network, leaving its balance sheet free from large investments in network infrastructure, and enabling it to offer better prices to customers. The positive performance has re-ignited speculation that the operator is being groomed for flotation, following hints from Sir Richard Branson earlier in the year that it was being considered for a market listing. Executives at the company, however, said that it is currently involved in a dispute with T-Mobile, over ownership – T-Mobile currently owns 50% of the MVNO – and an IPO is out of the question until this matter is resolved.