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

16 Mar 2015

US-based MVNO Solavei, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2014, has announced that it has safeguarded its future by merging with Netherlands-based ASPIDER, a Netherlands-based mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) for consumer and machine-to-machine (M2M) services. Solavei launched over T-Mobile US’s network in mid-2012, but as of 31 May 2014 (most recent data) the MVNO counted just 101,500 customers, down from a post-launch peak of 250,000. For its part, ASPIDER claims to have launched and managed more than 70 MVNOs over the last twelve years.

Kenyan MVNO Equitel, which is owned and managed by Equity Bank subsidiary Finserve Africa, notched up 400,000 subscribers by 31 December 2014 – up from just 38 following its launch three months earlier. Announcing the bank’s annual financial results, CEO James Mwangi noted that a total of 5.5 million transactions were conducted over the company’s network in the fourth quarter of 2014 alone. In April last year Equitel became one of the first three would-be MVNOs to receive a licence in Kenya, alongside Zioncell Kenya and Mobile Pay (Tangaza Pesa), paying just KES100,000 (USD1,134) for the concessions. The virtual operators all piggyback on Airtel Kenya’s network.

Vodafone Spain has begun migrating MVNO subscribers affiliated to its cableco unit ONO away from former wholesale partner Movistar, and on to its own infrastructure. According to Europa Press, the migration is expected to take place gradually, and will affect around 1.6 million virtual accounts. The initial contract with Movistar dates back to September 2009, while a renewal deal was agreed in May 2013. However, it has been suggested that ONO subscribers will not be granted automatic access to Vodafone’s 4G network.

Elsewhere, German cableco-turned-MVNO Kabel Deutschland is migrating its user base from the network of host provider O2 Germany to rival Vodafone Germany, following the UK-backed telco’s October 2013 takeover. The wholesale contract with O2 reportedly expires in April.

Meanwhile, China’s fledgling MVNO market could see the number of players reduced in the near future, following uncertainty over the futures of November 2013 licensees FunTalk and LianLian Tech. According to an unconfirmed report by local technology website C114.net, the former has shut down its flagship store in Beijing, while the latter has shuttered all its provincial branch operations, prompting speculation that their days may be numbered.

Finally, Aidou Telecom, a company founded by well-known industry figure Dr Adama Traore, has declared its interest in becoming Mali’s first MVNO. In an interview with local media outlets Mr Traore says that the relevant regulatory text that would allow for the introduction of a virtual operator has been ‘informally approved’ by the new telecoms minister, and is likely to be law in the coming months. As such, the MVNO could go live as early as August 2015. Interestingly, Traore first approached the local regulator with a business plan back in 2009, in conjunction with French-US vendor Alcatel-Lucent. Going forward, Aidou intends to secure a mixture of local and international backing, with at least 50% of the would-be MVNO’s shareholders expected to be Malian.

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