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

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6 Jul 2015

UBI Telecom, which claims to ‘deliver an ideal mobile experience for Korean-speaking customers in the USA’, has resurrected the HELIO mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) brand, which was phased out following the company’s 2008 takeover by Sprint. HELIO initially launched in May 2006 as a joint venture between SK Telecom and EarthLink, only to be sold to network partner Sprint for USD39 million in June 2008, and duly merged with fellow Sprint unit Virgin Mobile USA. The new MVNO offers broadly nationwide coverage, via wholesale agreements with both Sprint and Verizon Wireless. UBI notes that it previously fulfilled the exclusive role as a ‘master dealer’ for HELIO.

Spanish MVNO Pepephone, which launched in March 2007 over Vodafone’s network, before switching to Movistar’s infrastructure in December 2014, is targeting MVNO concessions in Mexico and Colombia, and hopes to stage a dual launch in early 2016. According to a report by Mexican website EconomiaHoy.mx, the company expects to launch over Movistar’s network in each of the Latin American markets.

Jamaica’s Office of Utilities Regulations (OUR) plans to issue up to twelve MVNO licences this year, the Jamaica Gleaner reports. Citing OUR’s corporate plan for 2015-2018, the newspaper quotes the watchdog as saying: ‘The introduction of MVNOs is seen as a natural progression in the facilitation of competition in the telecommunications sector … Given that MVNOs tend to focus on niche markets, it is believed that valued added niche services are better handled by these operators … This will address the rights and responsibilities of these virtual operators and their interactions with facilities-based operators.’

Czech MVNO BLESKmobil, which piggybacks on the O2 Czech Republic network, has reached 400,000 users, according to MobileNet.cz, citing an interview with brand manager Jan Fischer. The MVNO launched in November 2012, and currently stands as the country’s largest virtual operator by subscribers. While the company does not yet provide access to 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, Mr Fischer notes that ‘This question will be addressed when the appropriate portion of our user base have phones supporting LTE’.

MVNO Simyo France, which was acquired by Bouygues Telecom from Dutch telco KPN in December 2011, has confirmed that it will be shut down on 12 November. According to local press reports, Simyo has written to customers to inform them that they will not be able to buy any more airtime from 10 August, while the switch to Bouygues will occur on 26 August. Any customers wishing to retain their existing number are invited to switch by 5 November.

As of 1 July Snail Mobile, China’s largest MVNO by subscribers, has been offering 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) connectivity via its network partner China Unicom. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s MVNO Monday, Snail Mobile passed the one million user mark in March this year.

Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa and the Saudi Arabian Investment Company have announced that Sanabil Investments has committed to making a significant investment in Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia, in return for a ‘substantial minority stake’ in the MVNO. Riyadh-based Sanabil Investments, which is wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund, was set up to contribute to the strength of the Saudi economy by pursuing diversified and attractive local and international investment opportunities. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia launched in September 2014, in partnership with Saudi Telecom Company (STC).

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