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

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19 Sep 2016

Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) has announced the acquisition of local MVNO Lebara Australia from its UK-based parent company. Vodafone, which will gain around 130,000 subscribers via the transaction, will retain the Lebara brand as a separate entity, and preserve all Lebara employees’ jobs and customer service agents, as well as maintaining the MVNO’s existing customer service channels. Vodafone chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd commented: ‘Lebara Mobile has built up a strong brand presence and loyal customer base in Australia, and we see opportunities to grow the business further … Lebara Mobile customers are already enjoying the Vodafone 4G network, so nothing will change for customers in terms of their experience.’ Lebara has been a Vodafone-connected MVNO since 2009 and gained access to the cellco’s 4G network in June 2016.

One of South Africa’s largest church groups, Shepherd Bushiri Ministries International, which claims to have around two million followers, has launched a for-profit MVNO called PSB Network. The virtual operator, which has been named after colourful church founder Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, claimed more than 5,000 sign-ups ahead of its official launch at the weekend. PSB Network was built by mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) MVN-X, and piggybacks on the Cell C network. Would-be subscribers can buy SIM cards at their nearest Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church.

Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) activated its rumoured MVNO on 13 September, the telco has confirmed. CEO and co-owner William Yeung commented: ‘HKBN’s goal is crystal clear. We have achieved our 100,000 residential subscriber target for the financial year ended 31 August 2016, and have now shifted from growing our subscriber base to focus on growth of our revenue market share. We will leverage an integrated quad price with unprecedented household savings and service convenience to disrupt the legacy broadband, fixed-voice, content and mobile standalone segments.’

In Spain, Grupo MasMovil has reportedly completed its 100% acquisition of Pepe World and Pepe Mobile and its 94.99% stake in Pepe Energy, jointly called Pepephone. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s MVNO Monday, in May this year MasMovil agreed to pay EUR158 million (USD176 million) for the company, roughly twelve times Pepephone’s EBITDA. The acquired company is believed to have more than half a million customers.

A new MVNO has launched in the US in the shape of New York-based Mango Mobile, which is said to use the T-Mobile US network. The virtual operator markets itself as ‘4G LTE all the time’ and claims that it does not throttle users when they have reached their monthly data cap, opting instead to encourage them to buy more as required, ‘without paying for it up front’. Mango is said to be an affiliate of long-time US MVNO Red Pocket Mobile, which launched in 2006.

Also in the US, Beverly Hills-based RingPlus has informed Fierce Wireless that has signed up around 100,000 customers, 90% of whom subscribe to one of its free, advert-supported calling plans; the MVNO inserts advertisements into customers’ ring-back tones, meaning they hear an advertisement instead of a dial-tone every time they call someone. RingPlus launched in June 2015, over the Sprint network.

Lycamobile Tunisia has reportedly fallen into step with its local competitors, and introduced mobile number portability (MNP), thus avoiding further regulatory intervention. Agence Ecofin reports that technical tests now been successfully completed allowing the full-blown introduction of MNP. As previously reported by MVNO Monday, the National Telecommunications Authority (Instance Nationale des Telecommunications, INT) ordered Lycamobile to introduce MNP functionality by 1 September, or face sanctions. It was previously warned in April this year that it needed to implement MNP, but missed its self-imposed 9 August deadline. The INT had threatened to fine the MVNO 1% of its turnover for the previous year.

QBoCel, an MVNO operating on the Movistar Mexico network, has implemented a turn-key MVNO and MVNE solution supplied by FTS. Using the Israeli vendor’s MVNO platform, QBoCel says that it can now independently configure and deploy personalised, application-based plans, enabling the rapid delivery of new services to market.

Finally, Portuguese cableco Cabovisao, which was acquired from Altice Group by investment firm Apax France in January 2016, has been rebranded as Nowo. Alongside its cable-based triple-play portfolio, the rebrand also heralds the launch of the company’s oft-rumoured MVNO service. The cableco was awarded an MVNO licence by the National Communications Authority (Autoridade Nacional de Comunicacoes, ANACOM) in November 2015.

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