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

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26 Mar 2015

UK-based BT Group is expected to unveil its new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) unit BT Mobile later this week, leveraging the wholesale deal it signed with mobile market leader EE, prior to its agreement to acquire the cellular giant in a GBP12.5 billion (USD18.7 billion) deal. According to the Daily Telegraph the new MVNO service will initially be offered on a SIM-only basis to BT’s 7.6 million-strong broadband user base. Further, the launch will not be backed by a heavy marketing campaign, with the telco said to be delaying its ‘big push’ until the end of the football season. BT Mobile will then be sold as part of a bundle of telecoms and pay-TV services, which will include exclusive coverage of Champions League and Europa League football for the first time. TeleGeography notes that the BT-EE takeover is currently in the early stages of regulatory scrutiny by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), and the deal is not expected to be completed until the end of the year.

US MVNO Solavei, which expects to emerge from bankruptcy protection within the next few weeks, plans to expand to Mexico and other Latin American markets later this year, according to CEO Ryan Wuerch. The Solavei official told Fierce Wireless that 80% of new users are Hispanic or Latino, up from a 70% in August 2014, while 68% of the company’s total customer base is Hispanic. Further, the MVNO is the fastest-growing carrier in Puerto Rico, he claimed. In the interview, Wuerch said: ‘Being able to continue the expansion with our members in other Latin American countries is just natural … Obviously, with everything that is going on with the company, we continued to be focused on that market and that demographic, certainly here in the US and Puerto Rico, while we were in the process of doing this deal that will allow us to expand globally, and particularly into the Latin American market’. Although the CEO declined to say when exactly the expansion will happen, multiple new markets are expected this year, including Mexico. New Solavei parent company, Netherlands-based ASPIDER, claims to have launched and managed more than 70 MVNOs over the last twelve years.

Mexican fixed line operator Axtel has entered into agreements for the ‘commercialisation or resale of telecommunication services’ with America Movil (AM)-backed Telcel, which will pave the way for Axtel to become the first MVNO to piggyback on Telcel’s network.

Telstra, Australia’s largest cellco by subscribers, expects to introduce a wholesale 4G service by June 2016. In a press release confirming the timeframe, Telstra Wholesale’s group executive Stuart Lee noted that the company’s existing wholesale mobile product, which is based on 3G, is still ‘enjoying sustained growth’. Nonetheless, with the company acknowledging that its MVNO partners are keen to gain access to the faster speeds offered by 4G, Telstra is currently making preparations for the new service. To that end, Mr Lee was cited as saying: ‘We have commenced the technical work necessary at a network and platform level to ensure we can offer 4G next year.’

Dzidzai Chidumba, the founder of Zimbabwe-based start-up Viva Mobile has revealed plans to become the country’s first MVNO. In an interview with Balancing Act Africa, Chidumba commented: ‘I started Viva Mobile to offer a game changing new service provider, spearheading a mobile freedom movement. Viva aims to deliver unprecedented value and convenience to the mobile market, by offering innovative prepaid data plans … We are in conversation with an operator and we are being helped by an MVNO consultant.’ However, Chidumba noted that the new licence category is still under consultation, and he does not expect the company to achieve a commercial launch within the next twelve months.

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