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

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28 Sep 2015

Chinese handset vendor Xiaomi has launched its long-awaited MVNO service using the ‘Mi Mobile’ brand. Xiaomi’s reseller business is reportedly piggybacking on the 2G, 3G and 4G networks of incumbent operators China Unicom and China Telecom. The vendor is offering its service via a so-called ‘triple-cut’ SIM, which supports standard, micro and nano-sized cards. The newcomer offers 3GB of 4G data for CNY59 (USD9.2) per month, while a second package charges CNY0.1 per voice call minute, SMS or 1MB of data. Both packages include free incoming calls and no roaming charges within China. Xiaomi was awarded an MVNO licence by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in November 2014.

FreedomPop UK has officially launched its ‘100% free mobile service’ in a move that represents its first MVNO activity outside of the US market. The newcomer, which will utilise the Three UK network for connectivity, has launched in conjunction with mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) Xmobility. Going forward, FreedomPop UK plans to expand its free service to seven other countries within the next twelve months, and to more than 20 markets by 2017. Its CEO and co-founder, Stephen Stokols, commented: ‘The UK has had many mobile providers and services enter the market, but none of them offer a completely new business model enabling free service, guaranteed for life … We believe everyone should have access to mobile services, and we’re going to make that a reality in the UK’.

Spanish MVNO Pepephone is hoping to launch a new Mexican MVNO by March or April 2016, according to citing an interview with CEO Pedro Serrahima. As in its domestic market, Pepephone will use Movistar as its network partner, saying it hopes to offer 4G connectivity in Mexico City. Pepephone launched as an MVNO in Spain in December 2007; it has signed up nearly half a million customers in Spain to date. Serrahima also confirmed that the company is hoping to launch as an MVNO in Colombia, although its plans are far less advanced.

German supermarket Lidl is transferring customers of its Lidl Mobile MVNO to its partner Fonic, a sub-brand owned by Telefonica, as it prepares to launch a new mobile offer from 1 October using the Vodafone Germany network. According to, all existing contracts will continue to be honoured by Fonic.

Finally, Virgin Media has offered insight into some of the challenges faced by UK MVNOs as part of the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) hearing over the ongoing BT/EE merger. Despite being the most established MVNO in the UK – it launched around 17 years ago – Virgin suggests that it has struggled to claim a significant share of the market. According to Mobile Today citing minutes from the hearing, Virgin Media representatives observed ‘people were not queueing up to become MVNOs, and the number of serious MVNO operators was probably quite limited’. The MVNO claimed that new entrants were mostly driven by competitive response, highlighting Sky as an example. The Virgin Media official added: ‘Sky was clearly doing it because it saw that BT was going to do its own mobile deployment. Sky had described it in that fashion, as an offensive-defensive move’.

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