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

1 Jun 2015

Chinese mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) collectively signed up around 5.42 million users by 31 March 2015, local technology site C114 reports, meaning that the virtual sector has witnessed a substantial improvement in recent months; there were just two million MVNO users in the country at the start of the year. Telecoms regulator the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) began issuing MVNO licences in late 2013 as part of a two-year trial to assess the potential impact resellers could have on competition in the sector, predicting that virtual providers would amass around 50 million subscribers by the end of the trial in December 2015. To-date, half of the 42 firms issued with MVNO licences by MIIT have launched operations, with more expected to begin offering services in the second half of this year.

Australian retail giant Woolworths has signed a 3G wholesale deal with Telstra to become an MVNO using the telco’s 850MHz and 2100MHz networks. The retailer has signed up for Telstra’s pre-paid and post-paid mobile solution, which offers resellers their own branded pre-paid, post-paid and wireless broadband offerings, real-time account management with live notifications for customers, and Telstra wholesale post-sale support. Telstra’s offering spans 7,000 3G 850MHz sites covering 1.3 million square kilometres of Australia. While it does not currently offer its 4G network to wholesale partners, the cellco is expected to open up the network to partners by June 2016. In late 2013, Woolworths shut down its legacy Mobile brand – which piggybacked on the Optus network – after two years in operation.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mike Fairman, CEO of so-called ‘crowd-sourced’ UK MVNO GiffGaff, has confirmed that the virtual operator added 400,000 users to its subscriber base in 2014, replicating 2013’s growth, to become the third largest player in the space, eclipsed only by Virgin Mobile and Tesco Mobile. Further, he said that annual revenues increased by 51% to almost GBP210 million (USD321 million) last year. Interestingly, in an effort to diversify away from the mobile sector, GiffGaff is now applying its crowd-sourced model to the loan business model. In 2013 it partnered with peer-to-peer lender Ratesetter to offer users a line of credit worth up to GBP700 to buy GiffGaff’s range of mobile phones. Now it is using the same partner to offer loans of up to GBP7,500. The service has only launched in beta form, but the CEO claims it will change the model for micro-loans in the UK. Owned by Telefonica of Spain, GiffGaff was launched on 25 November 2009 and piggybacks on the O2 UK network.

Simyo of Spain, the low-cost MVNO-turned-Orange-sub-brand, has reportedly added over 30,000 net lines in the first quarter of 2015, meaning that it has now passed the 600,000 user mark. Local press reports suggest that the operator has reaped the benefits of its more flexible portfolio of pre-paid and post-paid mobile tariffs, and the timely subscriber boost has helped Orange Spain to offset the fall in its own mobile customer numbers. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, Orange acquired Simyo from Netherlands-based KPN in December 2012, and preserved the original branding as it sought to compete in the traditional MVNO space. Simyo passed the 500,000 mark in October last year.

German MVNO Drillisch has taken over 301 shops and 300 employees from Telefonica Deutschland, one of the conditions attached to the operator’s acquisition of German rival E-Plus. In addition, local cable operator United Internet has purchased a further 9% stake in Drillisch. The cable operator now has an indirect holding of 20.7% in the MVNO, making it the single largest shareholder. United Internet does not intend to acquire an equity stake of 30% or more in the mobile service provider, which would oblige it to submit a mandatory bid to all other shareholders of Drillisch, nor to make a voluntary takeover bid.

State-owned Thai operator CAT Telecom is said to be close to inking a wholesale contract with Data CDMA Communication, which will join existing MVNO partner 168 Communications in leasing 850MHz 3G spectrum from the telco. Sanpachai Huvanandana, acting CEO of CAT, said that the new partner was expected to launch its services in the third quarter of 2015. Meanwhile, going forward, CAT is also in talks for a possible MVNO tie-up with retailer Tesco Lotus.

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