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

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18 Jul 2016

RWG Mobile, a new MVNO courtesy of Red, White & Green Communications, has set out its stall as Wales’ first ever dedicated virtual operator service. A statement on the company website reads: ‘Wales has a real sense of belonging. Before RWG Mobile was launched, there wasn’t a mobile network that belonged to Wales. A mobile network that was run by people in Wales, for people in Wales. One with a Welsh language service as standard. RWG Mobile set about to change that.’ RWG Mobile will be initially launched as an app that can be downloaded to both Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, and will allow customers to secure multiple numbers that can be used to make and receive calls over the internet using a Wi-Fi connection. This will be followed by a SIM-based product that will make the network truly mobile, offering pan-Wales coverage as well international roaming capability and 4G connection at no extra cost. The network partner will be Three UK. RWG Mobile is the brainchild of Rhondda-born Andrew Davies, a qualified chartered accountant with experience of launching telecoms businesses in the UK, Europe and the US.

Virgin Mobile Latin America (VMLA) has been given an MVNO licence covering Argentina, La Nacion reports. The development follows on from reports that Phil Wallace, co-founder and chairman of VMLA had staged meetings with President Mauricio Macri and communications minister Oscar Aguad on 24 June. Movistar Argentina is expected to be announced as the MVNO’s network partner in due course, replicating the arrangement that has served VMLA in Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru. Virgin has made no secret of its desire to enter Argentina in recent years, initially raising the possibility of a licence back in February 2012.

Self-styled ‘freemium’ MVNO FreedomPop has announced that its service went live in Spain on 12 July. The launch means that the company is now operational in three markets, namely: the US, the UK and Spain. FreedomPop makes money by selling value added services on top of its free plans, such as a second phone number, discounted international calling to over 100 countries, online security and rolling over unused data to the next month. According to a company press release, the FreedomPop SIM will also work seamlessly across 25 countries with no additional fees, including the US, the UK, Germany, France, Portugal and Italy. Over 100,000 Spaniards have signed up to participate in its beta testing over the last two months. CEO Stephen Stokols commented: ‘When we announced our intention to come to Spain, we did not expect such an overwhelming reaction.’

South African operator Cell C has confirmed that its MVNO platform has attracted more than one million end-user customers. Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos commented: ‘MVNOs have incredible insights into their customers’ needs, and based on those insights they can offer very targeted products.’ MVNOs such as FNB Connect from First National Bank and MRP Mobile from retailer Mr Price have launched services on the back of Cell C’s network in recent years, augmenting its long-standing wholesale arrangement with Virgin Mobile South Africa, which launched back in June 2006.

Staying on the African continent, Zimbabwean telecoms start-up Viva Mobile has finally been given the thumbs up to launch its new resale service and hopes to go live in August 2016, TechZim reports. The newcomer had hoped to kick off its operations in March this year but has been awaiting final clearance from the telecoms regulator, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ). Viva Mobile founder and CEO Dzidzai Chidumba also confirmed that the company’s new service will be hosted by CDMA fixed-wireless operator Africom. It must be noted, however, that the Africom network lacks scope when compared to the more extensive footprints of the country’s three established mobile network operators (MNOs), Econet, NetOne and Telecel, even in the capital Harare.

According to an official blog post from Google’s Android team, Wi-Fi-first MVNO Project Fi has boosted its international coverage options by teaming up with CK Hutchison-owned Three, which has operations in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Hong Kong and Indonesia. While the official post is vague on specifics, a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch: ‘Users will get the fastest connection available on a given network, speeds aren’t capped. In some cases, that would be LTE networks, in others it would be 3G networks (depending on roaming agreements). Different countries will have different speeds, which is why we set a range.’ Google Fi claims that it now offers roaming capabilities in 135+ destinations.

Lowi a no-frills sub-brand of Spanish mobile operator Vodafone Spain (incl. ONO), has added 4G capability for end users with an LTE-enabled handset and a minimum 2GB tariff plan, writes movilzona. TeleGeography notes that at April this year the parent company’s 4G network infrastructure served 86% of the Spanish population.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has decided that 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, can continue to leverage the network of wireless market leader Rogers Communications to offer its service. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s MVNO Monday, 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. Danielle May-Cuconato, the CRTC secretary-general, argued that Rogers will continue to receive payment for its roaming services and is less likely to suffer ‘irreparable harm’ because of its ‘size and market power’. The Globe & Mail, citing Samer Bishay, the CEO of Sugar, Ice Wireless and the two companies’ majority owner, Iristel, notes that Sugar Mobile now has about 2,000 customers.

Malaysian MVNO Altel, which has offered services over the Celcom Axiata network since September 2013, is belatedly preparing to launch its own independent 4G LTE network. According to the company website, the ‘upgrade’ process started on 9 June and is scheduled to conclude on 31 August. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Altel handed a 4G contract to Chinese vendor Huawei Technologies in April 2014.

Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) has been licensed to offer a virtual operator business in Hong Kong, and has reportedly signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China Mobile Hong Kong, and is in discussions with two other local mobile network operators, with a view to launching the new mobile service to both the residential and corporate markets. Reports indicate that HKBN anticipates a soft launch as early as August this year. ‘This is a strong move to maximise shareholder value by offering a full suite of fixed and mobile services, leveraging our quickly expanding broadband customer base of over 800,000 households,’ said CEO and co-owner, William Yeung.

Indonesian news portal IndoTelko reports that the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) plans to adopt revised rules to allow for the entry of MVNOs in the country, specifically through rule changes to two pieces of legislation, Government Regulation (PP) concerning the operation of telecommunications (PP 52 in 2000) and Regulation 53 of 2000. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database writes that in December 2014 the MCIT opened a discourse on the possible adoption of business models to support the introduction of MVNOs. Minister of communication Rudiantara is keen to explore the implementation of a legal framework to encourage competition in the shape of virtual resellers, although the response from mobile network operators has been unsurprisingly muted.

Finally, US cable giant Comcast has confirmed the creation of new Comcast Mobile division, as it looks to exercise its dormant MVNO deal with Verizon Wireless. Originally reported by Multichannel News, Greg Butz, who formally headed up business development for Comcast Cellular Communications in the 1990s, will report directly to Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit. Company sources have indicated that Comcast is still in ‘test mode’, but greater clarity regarding the cableco’s plans is now anticipated.

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