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

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26 Oct 2015

Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia has announced that it has passed the one million subscriber milestone – roughly one year after launching its virtual network. Virgin Mobile was the first fully-licensed MVNO to market in the country when it launched on 30 September 2014, piggybacking on the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) network. Mikkel Vinter, CEO and founder of parent company Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa, commented: ‘The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) showed great vision in bringing more competition to the Saudi Arabian telecommunications market, which benefits consumers and their society as a whole … One million customers is a great achievement by our team in Saudi Arabia, and we are hopeful that the future will bring further growth’. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Virgin competes with UK-backed Lebara Saudi Arabia in the Saudi MVNO space, while steps have been taken to introduce a third virtual operator.

US cable giant Comcast is moving closer to introducing a ‘Wi-Fi-first’ MVNO, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with the matter. Taking its cue from Google’s small-scale Project Fi, Comcast is expected to offer a hybrid cellular/Wi-Fi service, primarily using hotspots for data connectivity, but utilising the Verizon Wireless network when out of range. The sources, who asked not to be named because the information has not yet been made public, claim that the cableco has informed Verizon that it plans to cash in on the clause attached to a 2011 spectrum deal in order to enable the service. In December 2011 Verizon announced that it had acquired a total of 122 AWS spectrum licences from SpectrumCo, a joint venture between Comcast, Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Bright House Networks. Under that agreement, the three cable operators secured the rights to resell Verizon’s wireless services at a later date. During a 3Q15 conference call this month Verizon CFO Fran Shammo admitted that unspecified cable companies had informed the carrier that they now wish to execute on that part of the agreement.

Australian supermarket chain Coles has teamed up with Optus to launch a new resale service named Coles Prepaid, which went live on 19 October offering end-users two main tariff plans. The first is the AUD10 (USD7.2) ‘$10 For 10 Days’ offer, that comes with 400MB of data, unlimited calls and texts; the tariff is aimed at tourists visiting Australia on short trips. The second option is an AUD10 pay-as-you-go option, wherein an SMS, 1MB of data and one minute of calling time are all priced at AUD0.12. The package lasts 60 days. Coles’ non-food general manager Karin Zimmerman commented: ‘We’re excited we can offer options on the Optus network for budget-conscious shoppers such as mums managing mobile plans for the whole family’.

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) has proposed a new ‘Converged Licensing Framework’, which could finally lead to the introduction of MVNOs in the southern African nation. A consultation document, which is open from 26 October to 26 November 2015, invites comments on all facets of the proposal, with virtual operators provisionally falling under the ‘Application Services Class Licence Category B’ heading. The concession is defined as follows: ‘This will be an electronic communication licence entitling the holder who neither owns any network facilities nor operates any telecommunications network but leases capacity to provide one or more application services’.

America Movil (AM) has reported that its US MVNO TracFone Wireless saw its total subscriber base contract 0.7% on an annual basis, ending the third quarter of 2015 with 25.726 million customers, down from 25.904 million one year earlier. 3Q15 revenues declined 0.2% to USD1.722 billion. The parent company commented: ‘Our brands Straight Talk, SafeLink and our new brand Total Wireless have shown solid growth, whereas our legacy brands registered client disconnections’. So-called legacy brands include TracFone itself, as well as Telcel America and NET10.

Orange Poland sub-brand nju mobile notched up net subscriber additions of 22,000 in the third quarter of 2015, to increase its total user base to 640,000. The statistics were divulged to by a company spokesman, who added that 234,000 users were signed up to post-paid tariffs.

Finally, Telekom Romania’s Telekom Mobile unit has entered into an agreement with Bucharest-based mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) Veridian Systems, in a bid to spur MVNO activity in the country. Veridian boss Marian Velicu, former director of regulation at Vodafone Romania, told business daily Ziarul Financiar that he had been in negotiations with the incumbent cellcos for around three years, but larger rivals Orange and Vodafone proved reluctant to partner with the MVNE. Going forward, Velicu expects to unveil his first MVNO partners in 2016, indicating that a number of utility firms are keen to enter the virtual mobile space. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Lycamobile Romania became the country’s first MVNO when it launched in March 2015 via a full MVNO agreement with Telekom.

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