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

20 Apr 2015

Madrid-based MVNO Tuenti, which officially launched its integrated telephony service in February 2012, now has more than 240,000 active mobile customers in Spain. The company, which was set up in 2006 and is now owned by Spain’s Telefonica, reported a 33% reduction in its losses in FY 2014, closing out the year with a deficit of EUR16 million (USD17.1 million), while reporting that wholesale network access payments to its parent Telefonica amounted to EUR16.6 million – effectively meaning that the subsidiary no longer has ‘a negative impact on the group’. Tuenti also achieved a 25% year-on-year increase in turnover to EUR21 million, with its CEO Sebastian Muriel noting in a blog posting that 98% of revenues now come purely from mobile services, compared to 72% in 2013. Telefonica paid close to EUR70 million for an 85% stake in Tuenti in 2010 and went on to acquire the 15% it did not already own in late-2013. The Spanish giant also offers Tuenti-branded MVNO services in Mexico, Peru, and Argentina.

Dixon Carphone, owner of the UK retail chain Carphone Warehouse, has announced it is to sell its German business to the MVNO Drillisch, with the deal expected to be finalised before the end of May 2015. Upon completion of the divestment of The Phone House Deutschland, Dixons Carphone will retain a 3% stake in the business and will also be eligible for payments from future ‘excess cash flows’. The UK-based firm says that the decision to offload its German mobile business follows a period of restructuring which also included the shutdown of its wholesale hardware business there. Drillisch has a subscriber base of 2.1 million users and reported revenues of EUR290 million in 2014. It has a Mobile Bitstream Access (MBA) MVNO contract with Telefonica Deutschland (O2 Germany).

In another German MVNO development, one of the country’s top tier football clubs, 1. FC Koeln, says it intends to launch a new mobile phone tariff on the mobile network of O2 Germany in partnership with online telecommunications reseller Sparhandy. According to inside-handy.de, 1. FC Koeln’s new tariff offers unlimited voice calls and 500MB of mobile data (peak 21.6Mbps) for EUR19.48 per month, but requires the user to also purchase a smartphone – which include the iPhone6 Plus for EUR579, or the Samsung Galaxy Edge for EUR629.

Hutchison Whampoa Limited (HWL), the Hong Kong-based multinational telecoms to ports conglomerate controlled by Li Ka-shing which operates mobile services under the 3 brand, has announced the launch of Hue, a global end-to-end virtual mobile network enabler (MVNE) designed to give MVNO customers global reach via HWL’s network operators across Europe and Asia. In a press release, Hue says it will act as ‘single point of entry for MVNOs wanting to create global coverage quickly and easily’ by accessing the parent group’s mobile networks. The newcomer’s MVNE platform promises to deliver a range of services, from mobile network access through to CRM, billing and provisioning as well as the potential to interface with third-party providers, such as credit management agencies and logistics partners.

China’s MVNOs stand accused of failing to meet expectations due to high wholesale prices and operating costs and shaky business models, C114 writes, citing a report from IBM Global Business Services which surveyed 18 of the nation’s 42 MVNOs. According to the report, around half of the providers surveyed admitted that their wireless resale businesses were falling short of targets and blamed the lack of a good business model for wireless resale in China. Around a third of the MVNOs surveyed indicated that they would look to transition to a full mobile network operator (MNO) model, if the option became available. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology began issuing MVNO licences in late 2013 as part of a two-year trial to assess the potential impact MVNOs could have on competition in the sector.

Telstra, Australia’s largest cellco by subscribers, is being investigated by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) concerning allegations that it is guilty of refusing rivals wholesale access to its 4G mobile network. The Australian newspaper reported that Macquarie Telecom filed a complaint around a year ago amid concerns of heel-dragging over its request for access to Telstra’s recently deployed 4G infrastructure. The ACCC launched a preliminary hearing in September 2014 to ascertain if the dominant player is engaged in anti-competitive practices in the market. Although Telstra had pledged to open up its 4G network by the start of this year, it has since postponed its plans. Indeed, last month MVNO Monday reported that Telstra now expects to introduce a wholesale 4G service by June 2016, with Telstra Wholesale group executive Stuart Lee noting: ‘We have commenced the technical work necessary at a network and platform level to ensure we can offer 4G next year.’ The telco’s apparent lack of appetite to resolve the issue could be an attempt to secure its market segment share while simultaneously avoiding any moves that would provoke the ACC to take remedial action.

Sprint Corp MVNO Boost Mobile has launched a new pre-paid service in Cuba, online portal BidnessETC reports, offering end users voice calls and SMS between the US and Cuba for USD50 per month. The MVNO claims the new service will provide ‘the lowest introductory charges for making calls to Cuba’, with prices from USD0.30 per minute. The service is being rolled out initially in Miami – to take account of the high number of ex-pat Cubans living there – but will be launched in other markets in due course. Boost notes that its offer also includes unlimited SMS.

Finally, deep down in the rumour mill, a leaked Android application blog report claims that Google will charge its new MVNO customers ‘per GB’ for mobile internet access, along with a credit for any unused data and the option to share data plans. Whilst little is known about Google’s MVNO plans, FierceWireless writes that the unearthed information on the new Google app – code-named ‘Tycho’, which references ‘Nova’ and ‘Project Fi’, both of which have been linked as potential names for the search engine’s new MVNO – will charge customers only for the data they use, and will credit them for unused amounts at the end of the month. Additionally, over-usage fees will be charged on a flat rate per GB basis, it claims, while voice calls and SMS in the US will be ‘free’ and international calls will be levied at a ‘low rate’, akin to the Google Voice service. Speculation over Google’s MVNO plans is intensifying too following press reports claiming it finalised a deal to acquire Arizona start-up Athena Wireless Communications in February this year. The target company builds wireless LTE and small cell technologies that can move data at gigabit fibre-like speeds.

We welcome your feedback about MVNO Monday. If you have any questions, topic suggestions, or corrections, please email editors@commsupdate.com