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

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9 May 2016

A new MVNO has launched in Singapore in the form of Circles.Life, the brand name of Liberty Wireless, a Singapore-based mobile company. The virtual operator, which piggybacks on the M1 network, launched on 5 May. Rameez Ansar, co-founder of Circles.Life, told Channel News Asia: ‘Circles.Life’s innovative platform allows our customers to experience telco in a way they’ve always wanted. By doing this, we hope we can be part of leading innovation in the telco industry which is characterised by data and analytics’. The MVNO seeks to create a fully digital, automated experience, where consumers can customise their plans online or through an app.

Sprint Corp has announced that it has entered into an agreement with US MVNO i-wireless to merge its Assurance Wireless service with i-wireless’ Access Wireless business. The enlarged entity will operate under the name i-wireless, and will be led by its founder and CEO Paul McAleese. i-wireless will target users of the government-subsidised Lifeline scheme, and intends to leverage its relationship with its strategic investor, the Kroger Company, one of the nation’s largest grocery chains. The company will continue to operate on the Sprint network. Going forward, Sprint will own 70% of the business, with i-wireless owning the remaining 30%.

Spanish MVNO MasMovil has announced the acquisition of 100% of rival MVNO Pepephone. According to a statement given to Madrid’s alternative stock exchange, the Mercado Alternativo Bursatil (MAB), MasMovil paid EUR158 million for the company, roughly twelve times Pepephone’s EBITDA. The acquired company has more than half a million customers, and once completed, the deal will bring MasMovil’s mobile base close to the one million milestone.

A new MVNO has launched in the US, in the shape of Tello, which is backed by international communications specialist KeepCalling. The company has a previous history in the MVNO sector, having introduced a Tello-branded MVNO in the UK in 2014. The newcomer, which utilises the Sprint network, promises to offer end-users ‘low rates, no hidden fees, customisable plans and pre-paid services with no contract commitments’. Scott Kalinoski, Sprint’s vice president of wholesale solutions, commented: ‘Tello’s innovative rate plan and customer-first model is very exciting. I think the straightforward offers and approach to how they do business will resonate in the market’.

Bok Radio, a Cape Town-based Afrikaans radio station, has launched an MVNO called BokSel. The new service piggybacks on the Cell C network, with additional roaming via Vodacom’s infrastructure. The newcomer’s website and services are offered exclusively in Afrikaans. There are said to be around seven million Afrikaans speakers in South Africa today; the language evolved from the Dutch vernacular of South Holland, and was originally spoken by the mainly Dutch settlers of what is now South Africa.

Estonian cableco Starman has signed a new wholesale deal with Tele2 Estonia, the MNO has announced. The deal replaces Starman’s original network pact with Elisa, which was activated in 2012. Tele2 notes that the new deal gives Starman access to its 375Mbps LTE-Advanced network, which was switched on in November 2015.

Dutch MVNO ClubMobiel was shut down at the end of April, Telecompaper reports. The company told the news site that it was no longer possible to offer a competitive mobile proposition, noting that it has reached an agreement with the MVNO Simpel to take over its customers. Elsewhere in the Netherlands, Dutch utility group Delta, which recently put its broadband and pay-TV assets up for sale, has reportedly discontinued its virtual operator service. The company stopped signing up new customers on 1 May, while existing users will see the service curtailed in September.

Boston-based MVNO CampusSIMS has raised USD2.5 million from investors this month in a funding round led by Nauta Capital, an international venture capital firm, the Boston Globe reports. The start-up has partnered with international student offices at 250 universities — including Harvard, Northeastern and New York University. CampusSIMs founder and chief executive Scott Pirrello, who started the company in 2011, told the newspaper that the MVNO has thousands of customers across all 50 states. Pirrello said he concentrates on integrating features that matter to international students, such as plans that offer up to 500 minutes of international calling and the ability to freeze an account for the summer, when many international students return home.

US MVNO giant TracFone lost 458,000 customers during the first quarter of 2016, to end the first quarter with 25.2 million customers. The company partly blamed its customer losses on new FCC Lifeline eligibility requirements. Tracfone’s revenue for 1Q16 dropped to USD1.8 billion, down 3.3% year-on-year, although ARPU was up 1.4% to USD21.0. Meanwhile, following on from comments by Verizon CFO Fran Shammo that his company feels that TracFone effectively doubles as its pre-paid brand, America Movil (AM) CEO Daniel Hajj admitted: ‘I think Verizon at this stage has a good share of our traffic, and yes, if Verizon is giving us a more competitive offer of course we can move more traffic to Verizon. But it is going to depend on the offers that we receive, and that’s what we have been doing for the last two or three years … Verizon has been very aggressive and that’s why they have been growing with us in the last five years. So they have a big share of our market.’

Finally, Rostelecom has finalised an agreement with its part-owned mobile subsidiary Tele2 Russia to operate MVNO services over the latter’s 2G/3G/4G network, targeting the consumer quadruple-play bundling market and the converged corporate services sector. The partners’ plan is for Rostelecom to launch its MVNO with federal scope in the third quarter of 2016, under a framework deal which reportedly carries a maximum value of RUB330.4 million (USD4.98 million) including VAT over a year, depending on the volume of consumption of services. Rostelecom has indicated that it does not intend to focus on standalone MVNO services.

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Estonia, Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, United States, (MASMOVIL) Pepephone, BokSel (South Africa), CampusSIMS, Circles.Life, DELTA (old), Grupo MASMOVIL (incl. Yoigo), Kroger Wireless, Rostelecom, Sprint Corporation (became part of T-Mobile US), Starman, Tello (US), TracFone Wireless

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