MVNO Monday: MVNOs World Congress Special

18 Apr 2016

CTExcel, the international MVNO business operated by Chinese communications giant China Telecom, has unveiled plans to launch its fourth virtual operation – in Australia – this year. Speaking at last week’s MVNOs World Congress in Amsterdam, China Telecom global product manager (mobile business), Yan Shun Li, told attendees that the launch was imminent. The company’s first international MVNO CTExcel UK went live in May 2012, with a French operation following in October 2013. More recently, in May 2015 the company launched CTExcel US in conjunction with Singapore-based mobile virtual network aggregator (MVNA) Plintron.

UK-based MVNO giant Lycamobile Group now boasts more than 15 million subscribers worldwide, CEO Chris Tooley informed the audience at the conference. Speaking during a panel-based discussion on the development of a global brand, Mr Tooley observed that one of the key strands of Lycamobile’s international strategy is ‘being global, but operating on a local basis’. With the group’s MVNO operations now spanning 20 countries, Tooley confirmed that the company’s management is ‘still centralised’, but admitted that it is ‘reviewing that model at the moment’. Separately, he noted that Lycamobile’s US subscriber base is now in the region of 750,000 and is expected to pass the one million user mark in 3Q16 and reach two million by the end of 2017. The US service launched in March 2013 over the T-Mobile US network.

Elsewhere, Habib Ben Lallahom, Tunisie Telecom’s executive director of wholesale MVNO, says that Lycamobile Tunisia– which launched over TT’s network on 1 October 2015 – already accounts for an impressive 40% of the country’s inbound international traffic. Previously, in its most recent monthly report, domestic regulator the National Telecommunications Authority (Instance Nationale des Telecommunications, INT) confirmed that Lycamobile registered the highest volume of international traffic of all Tunisia’s mobile providers, adding that ‘almost 100%’ of international inbound traffic comes from countries where Lycamobile is operational. The MVNO claimed 90,705 customers at end-February.

Mikkel Vinter, CEO of Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa (VMMEA), says that the group now accounts for 2.5 million MVNO users across its five live markets. Mr Vinter observed that the group’s strong progress is down to its dual-brand approach: the Virgin Mobile moniker is targeted at a young audience, and has a retail presence in upmarket shopping malls across the company’s footprint, while the legacy FRiENDi brand is aimed at foreign workers who have family abroad. As such, FRiENDi sales representatives are more likely to target labour camps where there are ‘no marble floors’ in sight. Going forward, although he declined to identify his target markets by name, Vinter noted that there is more MVNO activity ‘in the pipeline’, and industry observers can expect to see ‘a few more flags on the map’ in 2017. The company hopes to serve ten million subscribers within five years.

In other MVNO news, Tesco Mobile, the UK’s largest MVNO by subscribers, has announced that its subscriber base has reached the 4.6 million mark. The figure was included in the retail group’s recent ‘Preliminary Results 2015/16’ statement, which covers the 52 weeks ended 27 February 2016. The most recent MVNO statistic represents an increase of 5% on an annual basis, Tesco noted. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s MVNO Monday, the retailer is expected to acquire the 50% stake in Tesco Mobile held by its co-owner (and network partner O2 UK) in the near future. The deal was tabled in an effort to push through the stuttering GBP10.25 billion merger between Three UK and O2 UK.

Spanish virtual operator MASMOVIL has reported that the number of active residential mobile subscriber lines on its books at end-2015 was 458,000, which represents a 29% increase year-on-year. The MVNO credits the gains to ‘the implementation of a commercial strategy based on a continuous forming of distribution channels, intelligent and guided use of advertising and appropriate management of commissions’. Going forward, the company plans to unveil its new convergent offer in 2Q16, leveraging the fixed assets acquired from the enlarged Orange/Jazztel entity during the second half of 2015.

Sberbank, one of Russia’s biggest financial institutions, has been holding talks with a number of cellular operators regarding the creation of an MVNO business, Vedomosti reported last week. Tele2 Russia and VimpelCom are among the likely partners, the business daily suggests, citing sources close to the negotiations. The MVNO is expected to help boost the popularity of mobile financial services, and also reduce the expense of contacting clients via SMS.

Elsewhere in Russia, Atlas hope to launch MVNO services in Moscow and St Petersburg in May, reports. The company plans to use the so-called ‘Freemium’ model, whereby it will provide a basic package of telecoms services without charge, while offering a more expansive range of services on a paid-for basis. The identity of the network host has yet to be disclosed.

Finally, US cable giant Comcast is seeking to hire executives with direct MVNO experience, in a move which ties in with speculation regarding the development of its long-rumoured MVNO offering. According to The Donohue Report, which cites a series of recent job postings on the company’s careers page, Comcast hopes to find a handful of executive with backgrounds in the mobile industry. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s MVNO Monday, in October 2015 Comcast revealed plans to activate a dormant MVNO deal signed with Verizon Wireless back in 2011. Further, it was recently revealed that Comcast had registered to bid in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) 600MHz Broadcast Television Spectrum Incentive Auction as ‘CC Wireless Investment’, suggesting its mobile ambitions may not necessarily be confined to the virtual sector.

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