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

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16 Feb 2015

Japanese heavyweight NTT DOCOMO is set to terminate its US mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in March 2016, the Japan Times reports, citing unidentified industry sources. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the Japanese firm switched on its DOCOMO USA Wireless MVNO service on 6 April 2011, piggybacking on T-Mobile US’s network. The partnership with T-Mobile was updated in September 2013 to include access to the US cellco’s 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network. At that date the MVNO claimed 400,000 customers, principally made up of Japanese students, overseas workers and other expatriates. Coverage is centred on locations such as New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles and Hawaii.

Filipino MVNO ABS-CBN Mobile is bullishly targeting the addition of around two million new subscribers this year, on top of the 1.1 million it has garnered to date. Carlo Katigbak, head of ABS-CBN Access, told reporters that the reseller has a challenging year ahead, but is confident it can achieve its subscriber goal. ABS-CBN Mobile, the telecoms arm of ABS-CBN Convergence – part of ABS-CBN, a commercial TV broadcaster in the Philippines, which is itself owned by the Lopez Group of companies – has previously stated that it would need around two million customers before it would achieve its break-even point, but has since upped this to three million, due to an overall decline in ARPU in the Philippines. ABS-CBN Mobile signed a five year wholesale deal with host network operator Globe Telecom in May 2013, and claims to have invested about PHP3 billion (USD67.9 million) to roll out mobile services.

Spanish MVNO Happy Movil has changed hands as part of a wider transaction, it has been confirmed. Last week telecoms regulator the Comision Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia (CNMC) provisionally approved MasMovil’s acquisition of business-oriented operator Xtra Telecom from UK-based Phone House Holdings, a subsidiary of the Carphone Warehouse Group. The transaction, agreed in July 2014, included the assets of Happy Movil – currently piggybacking in Orange Espana’s network. Following a series of acquisitions last year, MasMovil declared its intention to rebrand its new Ibercom, Digital Valley and Xtra Telecom units under the Xtera banner. Founded in February 2006, MasMovil originally launched as an MVNO in February 2008, but has since shifted its operational focus towards the corporate sector.

US MVNO Ting Mobile, which piggybacks on Sprint Corp’s CDMA-based network, has reported that the number of accounts and devices attached to its service effectively doubled in 2014, giving the virtual operator a total number of 94,000 active accounts and 147,000 active devices at the end of the year; Ting allows multiple devices on the same user account. As a subsidiary of publicly traded internet company Tucows, Ting is one of the few US MVNOs that reports subscriber numbers. The company said its monthly churn is around 2% to 2.5%. According to Fierce Wireless, later this month Ting aims to launch an invitation-only beta trial of a parallel GSM service, which is expected to be hosted on T-Mobile US’ GSM network. Ting director Scott Allan observed that by adding support for GSM, hopes to open up the number of devices that Ting can support, potentially letting it tap into a far larger potential user base. However, Allan affirmed that Ting is still happy with its relationship with Sprint and the network improvements the network operator has made.

US MVNO giant TracFone saw its user base increase 9.9% year-on-year to reach 26.006 million by 31 December 2014, parent company America Movil (AM) has reported. Minutes of use (MoU) for the fourth quarter increased 2.0% y-o-y to 531, while monthly ARPU remained flat at USD20. The virtual operator generated revenues of USD6.852 billion in 2014, up 13.4% compared to USD6.043 billion in 2013.

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