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

16 May 2016

UK-based Lycamobile Group, which currently serves more than 15 million customers worldwide, has announced plans to launch in Macedonia sometime in the near future. If and when the service goes live, the Balkan nation will become Lycamobile’s 21st international market, and only its third in eastern Europe, after Poland and Romania. The MVNO’s network partner, however, has not been disclosed.

Elsewhere, Lycamobile Romania has confirmed that it has passed the 100,000 subscriber milestone, roughly one year after its launch. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Lycamobile launched Romania’s first independent MVNO service in March 2015, over the network of Telekom Romania Mobile Communications (formerly Cosmote Romania); its SIM cards are available at around 64,000 retail outlets nationwide.

Iran could have operational MVNOs by March 2017, according to a timeline set out by Sadeq Abbasi Shahkouh, the deputy head of the country’s Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA). The official recently told the Financial Tribune that ‘nearly 50’ requests for MVNO concessions have been assessed, of which ten were rejected. Meanwhile, a further ten companies have been given permission to sign contracts with one of Iran’s national mobile operators, and final working permits are expected to be issued by July this year. Based on previous statements by regulatory officials, the applicants included a mixture of fixed line telcos, domestic banks and international operators, with 32 foreign companies from 18 different countries submitting paperwork.

Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa (VMMEA) has proposed an initial public offering (IPO) as it seeks to ramp up its regional expansion plans. In an interview with Arabian Business, VMMEA founder Mikkel Vinter commented: ‘We are studying the possibility of an IPO. The plans are still in the early stages, and we are in discussions with banks and monitoring local exchanges … We have not taken any final decisions on which exchange to choose, but there are a range of options, including the Dubai Financial Market (DFM), Saudi Arabia’s Takaful, Qatar Stock Exchange, Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and of course the London Stock Exchange, and others outside the region’. Vinter said the business does not have to be active in a particular market to list on the local exchange. It is understood the IPO is unlikely to take place this year and any launch will ultimately depend on market conditions. In other news, Vinter confirmed that VMMEA is in the process of securing a licence in Tunisia, which should be awarded by the second half of this year.

Lycamobile France, meanwhile, has been fined by French telecoms regulator, Arcep, for failing to pay its universal service obligations (USO) for 2011 and 2012. According to a statement released by Arcep, the fees are required to be paid by any operator whose annual turnover exceeds EUR5 million (USD5.56 million), while the fee owed by the MVNO is said to be in the region of EUR150,000. A penalty of EUR100,000 will be levied against Lycamobile for failing to meet the previously stipulated payment deadline of 15 October 2015.

In Argentina, in an effort to remove the barriers which have impacted on the slow take-up of MVNO services, the regulatory authorities have tweaked certain clauses relating to MVNO licensing. As per Resolution 38/2016, as published in the country’s Official Gazette, the incumbent mobile network operators (MNOs) now have 120 calendar days to submit reference offers (starting 25 April). The resolution argues: ‘The presence of the MVNO should be seen as an extension of opportunities, not a threat to the MNOs, since it is expected to occupy market niches unidentified thus far’. In addition, the MNOs must ensure that all would-be MVNOs are afforded the same quality of service (QoS) that they give to their own customers.

Australia’s Telstra has announced that it is now offering MVNOs wholesale access to its nationwide 4G network, rolling forward its provisional June 2016 deadline. Will Irving, group executive of Telstra Wholesale, commented: ‘We know many of our MVNO customers are keen to have the opportunity to offer 4G services on Australia’s leading mobile network, so we are pleased to have the next evolution of our wholesale offer ready ahead of schedule’.

Elsewhere in Australia, has reported that youth-orientated MVNO OMG Mobile has finally launched. Aimed at 18 to 30 year olds, founder Todd Scott says OMG Mobile seeks to give customers ‘money can’t buy experiences’ particularly focused around the music space, such as backstage access at music festivals. The MVNO expects to sign up between 10,000 and 15,000 customers within the next twelve month, principally via word of mouth and the use of brand ambassadors. According to OMG Mobile’s website, it currently offers end-users three distinct tariffs: ‘Young Pup’, ‘Malcolm’ and ‘Big Dog’.

German football giant Bayern Munich has unveiled a new MVNO in association with Telekom Deutschland. Named FC Bayern Mobil, the virtual operator will offer pre-paid and post-paid plans, available through the club’s fan shops, Telekom’s retail units and also online. Pre-paid packages start at EUR9.95 per month, while the entry-level post-paid plan starts at EUR29.95.

Polish cable operator Vectra has announced that it has launched a new MNVO service, in cooperation with P4 (Play). The tie-up takes effect today (16 May), and replaces a prior arrangement with Polkomtel, which currently accounts for 18,000 subscribers. The Gdynia-based cableco has a footprint spanning 338 towns and cities.

Portuguese operators Cabovisao and Oni Telecom are planning to launch an MVNO, leasing network capacity from MEO, Jornal de Negocios reports. The two broadband companies were acquired by current owner Apax France, from Altice Group, in November 2015.

US-based Republic Wireless, which launched over Sprint’s CDMA network in 2011-12, has confirmed that it has secured an additional wholesale deal with an unnamed nationwide GSM service provider ‘with the fastest nationwide 4G LTE network’. Fierce Wireless claims that T-Mobile US is most likely Republic’s new carrier partner.

Defense Mobile, a US-based MVNO aimed at the 1.4 million Americans on active military duty and their immediate families plus veterans, reportedly faces an uncertain future and has ceased activating new accounts in the short term. When questioned by Fierce Wireless, Stan Simpliciano, the company’s COO and head of operations, commented: ‘Defense Mobile is still operational and providing mobile services to its existing veteran, active military members and customers … We are going through a business transition and have temporarily stopped new activations and expect to resume activating new customers soon’.

Finally, AT&T and Virgin Media are understood to be interested in re-entering India as MVNOs. An Economic Times (ET) report cites ‘top sources’ in the government, which claim both companies have expressed interest to enter India. The pair are believed to have held preliminary discussions with the authorities, and are preparing their respective entrance strategies. The move would mark a return to India for AT&T India; it was one of the early entrants in the mid-1990s, before exiting in 2005. Liberty Global-owned Virgin Media also had a presence in India after a partnership with the Tata Group in 2008, before quitting the market in 2011.

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