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

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29 Feb 2016

A new MVNO is finally poised to take flight in Zimbabwe next month, when Viva Mobile launches after four years of preparation promising to deliver a range of affordable voice call, mobile data and online TV plans. Founder and CEO Dzidzai Chidumba has confirmed that the newcomer is readying itself to launch by end-March out with a primary focus on the mobile internet data sector. Viva Mobile will be the first virtual operator to offer a commercial service in Zimbabwe, delivering pre-paid and post-paid plans under the banner ‘Wild Fruit’. Its entry-level PAYG offer – Wild Fruit Matamba costs USD9.99 for 3GB of data, 100 voice call minutes and unlimited texts (valid for 30 days’ duration). Meanwhile its UhuruTV plans cost USD9.99 a month. TeleGeography notes that Viva Mobile said in mid-2015 that it was targeting a launch in the first half of this year, with a service aimed at the 14-to-30-year-old age bracket. At the time it confirmed plans to initially launch as a branded reseller before going on to apply for a full MVNO licence once these become available. It has not said which network will act as its host provider.

Sugar Mobile, the new national MVNO launched by Ice Wireless a facilities-based MNO delivering 3G/4G HSPA+ technology to rural and remote areas of Canada, has fallen foul of wireless market leader Rogers Communications, prompting question marks over the newcomer’s business model. Ice Wireless has reciprocal roaming agreements with the big Canadian telcos, whose customers roam on the Ice Wireless network in cities like Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Inuvik. As such, Ice Wireless, via Sugar Mobile, is essentially selling the network access that it has through roaming agreements in Southern Canada to retail customers. Rogers has now indicated that it intends to terminate the roaming agreement, disconnecting both Ice Wireless and Sugar Mobile, prompting the latter to file a complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). In an email to CBC News, Aaron Lazarus, senior director of public affair for Rogers, noted: ‘We value our relationship with Ice Wireless, and hope these violations of our agreement will be resolved … Rogers has never had an agreement of any kind with Sugar Mobile’.

ADAC Prepaid, the MVNO operated by Germany’s ADAC – the largest automobile club in Europe – intends to disconnect all remaining SIM cards on 31 March. The reseller, which signposted its plan to suspend marketing to new subscribers back in November 2015, is encouraging users to port their numbers to, the low-budget sub-brand run by Telefonica Deutschland Holding. is offering EUR20 (USD22) in ‘welcome credit’ to all former ADAC Prepaid users.

Rostelecom of Russia is close to sealing a contract with Tele2 Russia which will allow it to operate as an MVNO over the latter’s network. Rostelecom has held a 45% stake in Tele2 Russia since the 2014 transfer of its mobile subsidiaries into a new joint venture, and the MVNO deal will leverage that arrangement. Svetlana Smirnova, Tele2’s director for strategic planning, told local reporters: ‘I can say that the negotiations are at the most active stage. We have made good progress, and I think you will hear news during the coming months’. It is thought that Rostelecom will target the multi-play market; the telco has previously estimated that it will sign up 2.5 million mobile users by 2020.

Four Thai virtual operators have formed an alliance named the ‘Thailand MVNO Club’, in order to share operating costs and raise competitiveness, The Nation reports. The four MVNOs – Samart i-mobile, Data CDMA Communication (MyWorld3G), 168 Communication and The WhiteSpace Co – all operate over state-run CAT Telecom‘s 850MHz 3G infrastructure, while Watchai Vilailuck, president of largest MVNO Samart i-Mobile, acts as chairman of the alliance. ‘The alliance will save costs starting from 5%-30% for each company depending on the different companies’ expenses,’ said Chaiyod Chirabowornkul, CEO of The WhiteSpace Co (a new operator licensed in July 2015) and secretary of the Thailand MVNO Club. Nipon Chuchid, president of the newly-launched MyWorld3G, added that each MVNO had its own niche markets – in the case of MyWorld3G targeting Thais travelling overseas, transport fleet operators using GPS systems, and wireless payment services. The club also wants to encourage more MVNOs to become members; there are currently 39 Thai companies holding virtual operator licences but no more than ten are active.

Nicholas Constantinopoulos, the president of US-based MVNO FreedomPop has claimed success for its recently launched Freemium MVNO model in the United Kingdom, adding that its ability to break into other markets has led it to enter into ‘talks with other operators in Latin America, Asia and Africa to do the same’. Constantinopoulos has revealed that his company has raised USD85 million with which to realise its expansion plans, noting that the launch of FreedomPop UK in September 2015 was achieved without capital expenditure as all operations and IT systems are hosted on the parent group’s systems in Los Angeles. ‘There is no staff in the UK,’ said Constantinopoulos in the Reinvention of the MVNO conference session. ‘New customers do everything online. We have nothing like top-up or scratch cards.’ The reseller claims to have a worldwide customer base of over one million, around one-third of whom pay nothing for their service; the remainder purchase additional bundles or service add-ons over and above the free service, paying an average of more than USD15 per month. FreedomPop UK uses the Three UK network for connectivity, has launched in conjunction with mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) Xmobility.

Finally, Lenovo has launched its ‘Lenovo Connect’ service, which it claims will work across devices, networks and borders for customers in China and Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Lenovo Connect eliminates the requirement to buy a separate SIM card for each country, and offers benefits such as low-priced global roaming. Initially available in 45 EMEA markets, Lenovo Connect users will be supported by customised data plans that are designed to support both domestic and international roaming use in more than 110 countries globally.

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