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

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9 Mar 2015

International MVNO giant Lycamobile has launched commercial services in Romania, the 18th country in its global footprint, piggybacking on Telekom Romania’s (formerly Cosmote Romania’s) network. The launch means that Lycamobile has become the first MVNO to enter the Romanian market. Lycamobile chairman Subaskaran Allirajah commented: ‘With such strong demand for pre-paid services, Romania was a natural next step for our international expansion. Launching there strengthens our offering even further across Europe and ensures we can help millions more people benefit from low-cost international calls. This is our first new market of 2015 but we have an exciting roadmap of announcements planned for the rest of the year as we aim to grow our user base by 25%.’ Back in 2012 Romanian regulator ANCOM claimed that 17 licensed operators had expressed an interest in entering the MVNO sector – a list that includes triple-play cableco UPC Romania – but most would-be virtual operators have been wary to enter the market due to the existing rock-bottom tariffs.

Barring any last minute technical hitches, search engine giant Google could switch on its long-awaited US MVNO as early as this month, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing sources familiar with the matter. However, the report claims that the network will only be compatible with the company’s Nexus 6 smartphone at launch. In addition, it notes that the new service will automatically provide users with the best network for their location, whether that is a Wi-Fi network, or a cellular connection from one of Google’s two anticipated network partners, Sprint Corp and T-Mobile US. Speaking at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last week, Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of products, told attendees: ‘We don’t intend to be a network operator at scale … Carriers in the US are what power most of our Android phones, and that model works really well for us.’ According to the WSJ, Sprint is reportedly hedging its bets by putting a ‘volume trigger’ into its contract with Google, so that the wholesale pact can be renegotiated if Google’s customer base grows too large.

Tele2 Austria has announced that it will re-enter the country’s wireless sector as an MVNO. Piggybacking on T-Mobile Austria’s network, the new venture will enable to provide nationwide network coverage for the business-to-business (B2B) segment. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, back in 2007 Tele2 sold its initial MVNO business to Mobilkom (now A1 Telekom Austria) for EUR7 million (USD8.7 million) on a cash and debt free basis. Fellow telco UPC Austria entered the local MVNO segment in December last year, and had already notched up around 50,000 subscribers by February 2015.

Snail Mobile, China’s largest MVNO by subscribers, has stated its intention to extend its operation on an international basis, Asia OTT reports. As such, Snail has indicated that it has already agreed wholesale partnerships with eleven foreign mobile network operators (MNOs), as well as securing tie-ups with a further 20 MVNOs. The first launch is likely to take place later this year, in an as-yet-unconfirmed European market. Snail Mobile, the wireless business of video game company Snail Games, previously claimed that it had reached the one million subscriber milestone in late-January, up from 670,000 customers at end-2014.

Dutch MVNO bliep has confirmed that it is switching wholesale provider, from T-Mobile Netherlands to Tele2 NL. The announcement means that bliep is the first confirmed MVNO to be hosted by Tele2’s new 4G network. Customers will need to obtain a new SIM card ahead of the network switch. Elsewhere in the Netherlands, MVNO Robin Mobile plans to introduce 4G connectivity in June this year, using KPN’s network.

Electronics firm Panasonic has launched its own MVNO service, allowing its business devices to connect seamlessly with the machine-to-machine (M2M) cloud. The first trials of the new network were demonstrated last week at Mobile World Congress. The company said that it will begin to integrate mobile connectivity across product lines, with a leading European supermarket chain said to be trialling the service, allowing users to access new Panasonic M2M cloud services. These could include remote monitoring, data collection and analysis.

Luxembourg-based MVNO JOIN Experience has utilised Spirent Communications’ ‘Tweakker’ platform to extend its access point name (APN) set-up platform to encompass Belgium. This extension, developed in just seven days, signals the beginning of the MVNO’s European expansion. JOIN was successfully launched in Luxembourg last year, and the company has since developed network agreements with a number of Tier One carriers across Europe.

O2 UK CEO Ronan Dunne has told Mobile News that his company would be interested in becoming Virgin Media’s MVNO provider should it decide to leave EE following its agreed sale to BT Group. Back in October 2013, Virgin extended its MVNO partnership with EE for an undisclosed period, selecting EE ahead of O2, thus extending the indirect agreement that dated back to 1999. Back in 1999 Virgin piggybacked on One2One’s network. One2One was purchased by Deutsche Telekom in 1999 and rebranded as T-Mobile in 2002, before being folded into EE, alongside Orange, in April 2010.

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