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

26 Sep 2016

US cable giant Comcast has shed new light on its long-rumoured MVNO plans, with CEO Brian Roberts telling investors at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference that his company has now moved to activate its dormant 2011 MVNO deal with mobile market leader Verizon Wireless. The new service is expected to go live in mid-2017, with Roberts telling conference attendees: ‘It may be a little sooner, but it won’t be at the beginning of the year … We believe there will be a big payback, with reduced churn, more stickiness and greater customer satisfaction.’ The virtual network will be augmented by Comcast’s 15 million-strong Wi-Fi hotspot network, the executive added.

In a related development, one day after Comcast disclosed its plans, rival cableco Charter Communications confirmed its own MVNO ambitions. Speaking at an investment conference in New York, Charter CEO Tom Rutledge confirmed that the company had told Verizon it is interested in activating its own deal with the cellco. In 2011 Verizon purchased AWS-1 spectrum from Comcast, Bright House Networks, Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Cox Communications (collectively known as SpectrumCo), and in return gave those companies access to its wireless network for use in a potential MVNO offering further down the line. While Charter was not included in the original transaction, its recent takeover of TWC has seemingly given it access to the dormant MVNO deal.

A total of 80 companies have applied for MVNO licences from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), it has been revealed. Of this figure, 70 have expressed interest in procuring a licence at the district-level with a view to offering localised services, while a further ten have applied for national-level concessions. In related news, this month has seen the establishment of the Virtual Network Operators Association of India (VNOAI), a newly incorporated not-for-profit association which seeks to help would-be MVNOs address their challenges, in collaboration with regulatory authorities, network operators and other stakeholders. The VNOAI anticipates that the launch of virtual operators in India will create a USD4 billion business opportunity.

Tarifhaus, a new MVNO that piggybacks on the Telefonica Deutschland network, has launched in Germany. The virtual operator was founded by Julian and Tobias Valdenaire – who established MVNO Eteleon (now part of Drillisch) back in 2000 – along with co-investor Staffan Schilke. Tarifhaus offers one-month rolling contracts and if subscribers remain on the plan for at least six months, the monthly fee decreases. The MVNO offers LTE connectivity from launch.

According to an unconfirmed report by TeleSemana, the government of Minas Gerais has paid BRL52.6 million (USD16.2 million) to increase its stake in Brazilian MVNO/M2M provider Vodafone Brasil to 45%. The investment has been carried out by holding company Cadepar, which previously paid BRL36.8 million for a 36.8% stake in the telco, back in November 2015. The investor will gain two seats on the board, via the transaction, the report notes.

Finally, Russian national operator Rostelecom has started testing its long-rumoured MVNO – which will be launched over the network of its 45%-owned subsidiary Tele2 Russia – in Arkhangelsk, Tver, Sverdlovsk and Krasnodar, ComNews reports. SIM cards are now available in the pilot regions, and a full commercial launch could take place as early as October this year. Rostelecom has no plans to offer the MVNO on a standalone basis and will instead sell the mobile service as part of a converged multi-play bundle.

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