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

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11 Jul 2016

Kenya’s Equity Bank Group plans to introduce its Equitel-branded MVNO service to all markets in which it currently offers banking services. All Africa quotes CEO James Mwangi as saying that the firm is partnering with as-yet-unnamed telcos in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to facilitate additional Equitel launches. He says the firm hopes to replicate the success it has experienced in Kenya in the other countries, commenting: ‘We have formed partnerships with mobile network operators so that we can leverage on their infrastructure without having to incur the cost of infrastructure. That leaves the bank with a lean and low cost infrastructure, while at the same time enhancing the sticking ability on the MVNO, and significantly reducing their problems in terms of users.’ Equitel Kenya, which was launched in October 2014, claimed 1.683 million Kenyan subscribers at end-March 2016.

Philippines-based Globe Telecom has announced that it is shuttering its MVNO operations in the UK, Italy and Spain, blaming ‘the changing competitive landscape in Europe’. UK Globetel Limited and Globe Local Italy SIM, both launched in 2013, while Globetel Internacional European Espana which started operations in 2014. Going forward, the Filipino telco intends to launch in Japan, through the establishment of GlobeTel Japan, although it has yet to confirm as to whether the Japanese business will incorporate an MVNO unit. Nikko Acosta, Globe’s Senior Vice President for International Business, commented: ‘We will continue to provide affordable and high-quality telecom services to our kababayans in Japan. We will also be adopting new business models to deliver meaningful products to overseas Filipinos’.

UK-owned Mundio Mobile Ltd has launched a new MVNO in the Czech Republic, under the Vectone Mobile brand. The planned launch has been an open secret for some time; in January this year reported that the Czech Telecommunication Office (CTU) had awarded the company a block of 200,000 numbers, with the prefixes 794 and 795. The identity of the network partner has not yet been divulged.

Elsewhere in eastern Europe, reports that Serbian firm Globaltel is set to launch an MVNO in September after being granted permission by the Regulatory Agency for Electronic Communications & Postal Services (Regulatorna Agencija za Elektronske Komunikacije i Postanske, RATEL). Globaltel, a local computer software company run by director Sava Terzic, will provide services via the VIP Mobile network.

Tismi, a Netherlands-based MVNO with an additional presence in Switzerland, the UK, Germany and Austria, has reportedly been given an MVNO licence in Iceland, where it already holds a fixed line concession. Chief Operating Officer Jan Willem Bogert has said that Tismi is able combine MVNOs from multiple countries on one single core network platform, giving it a significant technical and financial advantage.

Telefonica Deutschland has confirmed that its Simyo sub-brand will be gradually phased out in Germany, and that the Base sub-brand will be positioned as an online-only service in future. In Germany, Simyo is to be integrated with the Blau brand, which is now the central brand for Telefonica Deutschland’s ‘value segment’. Simyo customers will be gradually transferred to Blau by the end of 2016, and Simyo tariffs will no longer be available from the end of July. A streamlining operation has been anticipated since 2014 when the German cellco acquired E-Plus – and its raft of sub-brands – from Netherlands-based KPN.

Spanish MVNO Republica Movil is considering ending its so-called ‘collaboration agreement’ with MasMovil and joining forces with Orange Espana, which has been its network host since its launch in October 2013. The MVNO has around 60,000 subscribers, although El Economista notes that Republica has yet to come to a final decision. MasMovil, a long-time presence in the Spanish MVNO sector, recently acquired local MNO Yoigo. According to Republica’s website, MasMovil is credited with facilitating certain aspects of the smaller company’s operational/marketing strategy, but Republica stresses that it is independently owned.

UK-based mobile phone retailer Fonehouse reportedly launched a B2B MVNO, IQ Business, on 1 July. According to Mobile Today, the new product is aimed at dealers and small businesses, and follows hot on the heels of its consumer MVNO launch, IQ Mobile, which went live on 13 May. The article notes that Gamma was used as the mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE), and the platform combines ‘all major UK networks’.

In Tanzania, a new MVNO AMOTEL has announced its full commercial launch, targeting users in rural areas where it aims to deliver high quality telecoms services at affordable rates. The start-up is using the network of Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL) to host the new services, which have been kicked off initially in the Kilimanjaro region. AMOTEL plans to connect over 4,000 villages across the country, targeting over three million people.

Standard Bank of South Africa has ruled out any immediate plans to launch an MVNO model in the country, TechCentral reports, quoting the bank’s CEO for personal and business banking Peter Schlebusch as saying that it had assessed options to enter the market ‘extensively’ but in the end opted against it. ‘There are a lot of competent players in the telecommunications space already,’ Schlebusch said. ‘[First National Bank] clearly, has taken a different view, and they have their own reasons.’ The rival banking group launched FNB Connect as a virtual operator service last year, aimed at its banking customers using Cell C’s network. Although FNB is currently the only bank in South Africa to have launched an MVNO service, MTN interim executive chairman Phuthuma Nhleko was recently quoted as saying that a large as yet unnamed financial services company intend to launch on MTN South Africa’s network most likely either Absa, Nedbank or Capitec.

Finally, Russian bank Sberbank has advanced its plan to enter the MVNO market by forming a subsidiary named SB-Telecom, according to Interfax, which also quotes sources indicating that Sberbank is continuing to negotiate with potential network hosts including Tele2 Russia (T2 Mobile) and Mobile TeleSystems (MTS).

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