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

26 Jan 2015

Search engine giant Google Inc is planning to launch as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in the United States, technology site The Information reports, citing three people familiar with the matter. In order to facilitate its take-off, Google is expected to sign wholesale deals with Sprint Corp and T-Mobile US, the country’s third and fourth largest mobile operators by subscribers, respectively. The MVNO project, which has been code-named ‘Nova’, is reportedly being overseen by long-time Google executive Nick Fox. Commercial offerings could be introduced as early as this year, with the service initially available in markets where the company already offers 1Gbps Google Fiber broadband connections, namely Kansas City, Provo, Utah, while the sign-up process got underway in Austin, Texas last month.

US MVNO FreedomPop expects to cross the one million customer mark in the second or third quarter of 2015, CEO Stephen Stokols has revealed to Fierce Wireless, earlier than previously expected. In order to boost take-up, the virtual operator has launched an aggregated Wi-Fi hotspot service for USD5 per month. The hotspot network includes ten million hotspots, although Stokols notes that it will likely expand to 25 million within the next 90 days or so. Meanwhile, with reference to the ongoing takeover rumours, the CEO noted that FreedomPop is still discussing strategic options with ‘multiple parties’, noting: ‘It’s actually increased, which is part of the reason nothing has happened.’ Further afield, Stokols revealed plans to launch its international expansion programme in a ‘major’ European market early in the second quarter, although he declined to name the country involved. Although the company previously agreed a wholesale deal with BASE in Belgium, the MVNO is now targeting a larger market for its international launch. Going forward, Spain, Netherlands and Austria are also likely to see a FreedomPop launch in due course.

While the UK M&A frenzy continues, Bloomberg has reported that pay-TV/broadband operator BSkyB has entered into negotiations with O2 UK owner Telefonica regarding the potential launch of an MVNO. If wholesale terms can be agreed, Sky would be better-placed to compete with its rivals, many of whom have already introduced ‘quad-play’ offers. In the past Sky is rumoured to have staged similar talks with Vodafone, although no agreement ever transpired. Last week TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate reported that Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa had entered talks with Telefonica over a USD15.5 billion cash deal for O2 UK.

Hardware distributor Brightstar has inked an exclusive UK distribution agreement with the UK Post Office, for the supply of handsets, SIMs and accessories, ahead of its planned MVNO launch, Mobile News reports. The Post Office announced its intentions to enter the MVNO sector in July last year, after partnering with network operator EE and mobile virtual network aggregator (MVNA) Transatel. Post Office Mobile was due to launch at 50 Post Office branches, as well as online, this autumn, but the start-date has now been pushed back until later in year. The Post Office already offers home phone and broadband services, amassing more than half a million customers since 2006.

Meanwhile, over in France, Ortel Mobile has announced that it will cease operations on 24 April. The MVNO’s sister companies in Belgium, Switzerland and Germany are not believed to be affected by the announcement. In March 2008 Dutch telco KPN purchased a 65% stake in Ortel Mobile, before buying up the remainder of the shares in January 2010. Also in France, Virgin Mobile has informed customers that, from 16 February, it will solely use the network of its new sister company SFR, effectively signifying the termination of its agreements with Orange France and Bouygues Telecom. In November last year SFR’s new owner Numericable saw its USD445.79 million deal for Virgin approved by French competition authority, the Autorite de la Concurrence.

Netherlands-based corporate-focused telco VoiceWorks has announced the acquisition of OnePhone Germany, an MVNO with a strong presence in Dusseldorf and the North Rhine-Westphalia area. OnePhone currently has 12,000 SIM cards and 100 dealers throughout Germany, and is connected to the E-Plus/O2 network.

In conjunction with Elephant Talk Communications, Vodafone Spain has facilitated the launch of a new low-cost MVNO known as LOWI. The new unit is owned by Vodafone Group’s mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) unit Vodafone Enabler Spain (formerly Vizzavi Espana) and will not be managed by Vodafone Spain itself. Elephant Talk started activating SIM cards last December, while the overhaul of the core network, the systems architecture and the billing engine took around three months to complete.

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