MVNO Monday: a guide to the week's virtual operator developments

12 Jan 2015

Acotel has confirmed that its Noverca Italia mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) unit has agreed to transfer more than 170,000 customer accounts to network provider Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM). The agreement, which will allow Noverca to focus on its mobile virtual network aggregator (MVNA) business, brings an end to a tie-up that was first unveiled back in February 2008. Between February and May 2015 Noverca customers can switch their mobile number to TIM via mobile number portability (MNP) and maintain their current price plans. Further, Noverca will receive a fee that will vary according to the numbers and types of customer who switch providers: if all customers migrate to TIM, the fee will total EUR3.9 million (USD4.6 million).

Kenya’s Equity Bank has revealed that around 450,000 Equitel SIM cards are now in circulation, despite the fact that the MVNO’s launch has been delayed following a legal dispute over the use of so-called ‘ultra-thin’ SIM cards. The paper-thin SIMs, which are embedded with a chip and a number of contact points, can be placed on top of a standard SIM card, and used independently of the SIM card itself. Also known as ‘Skin SIMs’, the cards were devised by China’s Taisys. Late last week Equitel chief executive James Mwangi ambitiously told reporters: ‘We have now scaled the pilot testing and I am confident and I can assure Kenyans … that within this quarter [January to March], we shall have the formal launch and we expect to have five million people with Equitel by end of June this year’. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in April 2014 Equitel (via Equity Bank subsidiary Finserve Africa) became one of the first three would-be MVNO’s to receive a licence, alongside Zioncell Kenya and Mobile Pay (Tangaza Pesa), paying just KES100,000 (USD1,134) for the concessions. The virtual operators will all piggyback on Airtel Kenya’s network.

Regional powerhouse Virgin Mobile Latin America (VMLA) claimed the leading MVNO by subscribers mantle in both Colombia and Chile as of 30 September 2014, the countries’ respective telecoms regulators have confirmed. According to Colombia’s Ministry of Information Technology and Communication (MinTIC), Virgin Mobile Colombia accounted for 1.705 million virtual users at the end of 3Q14. , while sister company Virgin Mobile Chile claimed 200,518, Chilean watchdog Subtel reported, giving it around 50% of the country’s virtual connections. TeleGeography notes that VMLA is also operational in Mexico, and holds a licence to launch in Brazil.

Norwegian MVNO One Call has reportedly terminated its network agreement with Telenor Norge, one of its two partners, and will now rely solely on NetCom for connectivity. One Call has been wholly owned by Network Norway since February 2008, while Network Norway is itself controlled by Tele2 of Sweden. According to local media reports, the move has prompted widespread cancellations, given NetCom’s comparatively poor coverage in the north of the country.

VelaTel Global and China Motion Telecom (HK) Limited (CMMobile), its wholly owned Hong Kong MVNO subsidiary, have successfully upgraded CMMobile’s new Long Term Evolution (LTE) network operations centre (NOC) and are now migrating existing subscribers to the new platform. The upgrade will enable CMMobile to move forward with a number of distribution deals with selected partners. While the CMMobile network now has a total capacity for five million subscribers, according to VelaTel Global the company’s user base is a far more modest 100,000.

Montenegro is likely to see the arrival of its first MVNO this year, according to Zoran Sekulic, the executive director of the Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services of Montenegro (EKIP). Sekulic says that the watchdog has established the regulatory framework for the launch of MVNO services, and Budva-based Prontotel is expected to become the first virtual operator to progress to a commercial launch.

In a bid to fill the void left by the recently-approved merger between Gabon Telecom and Moov Gabon, the Gabonese authorities are keen to fill the void by licensing the country’s first MVNO. As such, France’s Orange Group has already been approached ‘discreetly’ with a view to gauging its interest in a virtual operator concession.

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