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

18 May 2015

Kenya’s Equitel is poised to start selling a second batch of one million SIM cards in the local market, but is still waiting to discover which number prefix the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) will allow it to use. The development was confirmed by John Staley, Equity Bank’s Chief Officer for Finance, Innovation and Technology, during an investor briefing on the banking group’s first quarter financial results. AllAfrica reports that the MVNO’s user base increased from 209,554 in March 2014 to 665,661 in March 2015. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in April 2014 Equitel (via Equity Bank subsidiary Finserve Africa) became one of the first three would-be virtual operator’s to receive a licence, alongside Zioncell Kenya and Mobile Pay (Tangaza Pesa), paying KES100,000 (USD1,134) for their concessions. They will all piggyback on Airtel Kenya’s network.

US MVNO FreedomPop is set to launch on a SIM-only basis in the UK this summer, in a move that will mark the company’s first activity outside of its domestic market. The development was announced by CEO Stephen Stokols, speaking in an interview with TechCrunch. In July last year FreedomPop said it would be opening up for business in Europe, after signing a wholesale deal with Belgium-based BASE of Belgium, although industry sources maintained that the company intended to delay its launch until it was ready to go live in a ‘major’ European market. The UK MVNO will offer services over the mobile infrastructure of Three UK’s network. In related news, Stokols has hinted that the company could break the one million subscriber barrier in the third quarter of this year.

Elsewhere in the UK, TalkTalk has decided not to bid for Tesco Mobile, with CEO Dido Harding commenting: ‘We are not interested in buying the Tesco Mobile base. Why would you buy an MVNO when you believe you can undercut the market and have superior economics by growing organically?’ TalkTalk was named a likely buyer because it acquired Tesco’s broadband customer base and Blinkbox video streaming service in January. Meanwhile, TalkTalk’s own MVNO, which piggybacks on the Vodafone network, saw its user base climb from 284,000 to 464,000 in the year-ended 31 March 2015. Harding commented: ’We’ve added a million revenue generating units … Four years ago we didn’t sell mobile, fibre or TV and we had a declining broadband base’.

Meanwhile, self-styled ‘ethical MVNO’ The People’s Operator (TPO) has confirmed that its UK-based subscriber base has reached 30,000. TPO, which is led by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, allows customers to direct 10% of their monthly bill to a charity of their choosing. The virtual operator, which launched in November 2012, is hosted by EE’s network. Wales commented: ‘It’s great to know that people really do want a mobile network that not only delivers on price and performance, but that delivers for great causes. Reaching 30,000 people on TPO so quickly is fantastic, and it is really still just the beginning with the US launch just around the corner.’ In April 2014 the company entered into a wholesale leasing deal with US carrier Sprint Corp, and a commercial launch is now said to be imminent.

According to Mobile News, Manchester-based call centre firm SLM Connect is investing GBP1 million (USD1.57 million) in a new MVNO as it aims to enter the business-to-business (B2B) market and safeguard its future. Six months ago, the firm partnered with Daisy Group to launch its own Vodafone-based MVNO called SLM Mobile which will now go on to launch a B2B offering later this month – targeting 20,000 connections within the next twelve months. SLM Connect currently provides telesales services for retail and network partners, including EE, and currently connects an average of 100,000 consumer contracts each year.

iD Mobile, the new MVNO owned by UK-based retailer Dixons Carphone Group, officially launched last week using the Three UK network. Contract lengths vary from 30 days to 24 months, and UK CEO Graham Stapleton claims that the MVNO will offer ‘increased flexibility and value’. Entry-level 30-day SIM-only plans start at GBP5 (for a data-only contract). Calls and texts can be added for GBP7.50.

Finally, UPC Austria has opened up its MVNO offer to the whole of the country, it has announced. Previously, the product was restricted to existing subscribers, with a requirement for would-be users to take another service from the operator. The new MVNO, which piggybacks on the Drei Austria network, claimed just 500 subscribers as of 31 December 2014. Earlier this month UPC Cablecom in Switzerland also expanded the scope of its MVNO offering, after accumulating just 8,800 by end-2014.

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