Speaking at the MVNOs Networking Congress in London last week, Alison Esposti, Head of Commercial Strategy for online-only MVNO giffgaff, confirmed that the Telefonica-owned operator now has 2.2 million ‘members’ – the company prefers not to use the term ‘customers’. Pitching the unit as the ‘edgy little brother’ of O2 UK, on whose network it piggybacks, Esposti noted that a key part of the MVNO’s success is its willingness to ‘empower members to recruit on our behalf’, as demonstrated by the story of Jieping Lin, a Chinese student who made GBP160,000 (USD200,000) through giffgaff referrals earlier this year; Jieping Lin targeted Chinese students planning to study in the UK.
Nick Wooten, Head of MVNO Segments and MVNO Sales at BT Wholesale (previously part of EE), explained that the pre-existing EE teams have now been reconfigured following the GBP12.5 billion takeover by BT Group earlier this year, with the changes taking effect on 1 July. EE is very much a standalone business unit, but the ‘EE MVNO’ department has been now been folded into BT Wholesale, and EE Roaming is now part of the BT Global Service division. Wooten noted that BT Wholesale currently counts around five million indirect end-users across 29 MVNO brands, including the likes of Virgin Mobile, Asda Mobile and Vectone. Pre-merger, MVNOs accounted for ‘well over 10% of EBITDA’ at EE, making the wholesale business an integral part of the deal.
An interesting detail emerged during the subsequent Q&A, when Vivian Woodell, CEO of The Phone Co-Op – which piggybacks on the EE network – publicly challenged Wooten over the 4G download speeds quoted. The executive confirmed that EE does not offer the same service level to MVNOs as it does to its retail customers, but it still offers faster downlink transmission speeds than the other UK MNOs can deliver.
Meanwhile, Paul O’Sullivan, Head of Wholesale Commercial, Telefonica UK, made a compelling case for MVNOs partnering with O2 UK. Dismissing suggestions to the contrary, O’Sullivan said it is ‘easy to write 4G into the contract … there is no conflict offering [4G] services’, adding ‘we have five very happy, very successful MVNOs [on our network]’.
Also speaking at the conference, as part of a panel discussion on pan-European MVNOs, Chris Tooley, CEO of Lycamobile Group, argued that ‘No MVNOs have ever been successful on a roaming proposition’. Interestingly, he noted that despite the MVNO’s overt focus on international traffic, around 50% of its traffic is now national/on-net, and Lycamobile ‘drives hard bargains on-net which stimulates a lot of traffic’.
Sticking with the UK, Virgin Mobile is finally set to launch 4G, and seeks to differentiate its service by offering free ‘zero rated’ access to social media applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, as well as providing flexible contracts and data rollover. Tariffs start at GBP6 per month, rising to GBP25. The MVNO is powered by long-term network partner EE, while customers will also have access to more than 250,000 hotspots via the Virgin Media Wi-Fi app.
In Australia, amaysim has announced that its subscriber base has passed the one million mark. CEO Julian Ogrin commented: ‘amaysim has stood out from day one in a crowded and confusing market because it is a customer champion that takes an online-driven subscription approach to mobile services and delivers a convenient DIY customer experience.’ Rob Parcell, managing director of network partner Optus Wholesale added: ‘We are impressed by the amaysim Group’s growth to become Australia’s largest MVNO and the fourth largest mobile service provider nationally in six short years. The amaysim Group is a strong case study in running a lean, sustainable, customer-centric MVNO.’
Elsewhere in Australia, Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) has completed the acquisition of Lebara Australia, as agreed in September this year. Under the terms of the deal, VHA subsidiary Vodafone Network assumed control of Lebara’s mobile base in Australia at midnight on 31 October; the new owner will continue to use the Lebara brand. There will be no change to Lebara customers’ plans or pricing during the transfer, the MVNO has noted.
Swedish telecoms heavyweight Telia Company has agreed to buy Norwegian MVNO and full-service B2B service provider Phonero at an enterprise value of NOK2.30 billion (USD281 million) on a cash and debt free basis. Phonero’s customer base comprises 25,000 invoiced enterprises with approximately 250,000 mobile subscriptions, according to Telia’s press release which adds that the takeover will increase the Telia group’s overall market share in the Norwegian mobile enterprise segment from approximately 13% to 27%, whilst generating annual cost synergies of roughly NOK400 million. Phonero posted revenues of NOK1.104 billion and adjusted EBITDA of NOK217 million in the twelve months ending 30 June 2016. ‘The transaction will strengthen Telia’s position as a true alternative to the incumbent in the Norwegian B2B market,’ said Abraham Foss, CEO of Telia Company’s Norwegian operations. The acquisition is subject to approval from the Norwegian competition authorities and is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2017.
Lycamobile Sweden now offers 4G LTE services via an enhanced agreement with network host Telenor Sweden, and the MVNO’s website confirms that ‘4G is now available at no additional cost.’ TeleGeography notes that the Swedish telecoms regulator PTS’ annual reports (2013-2015) indicate that Lycamobile is the largest independent MVNO in the country, albeit with a customer base representing only roughly 1%-2% of all Swedish mobile users. Subaskaran Allirajah, chairman of Lycamobile Group, said: ‘Our extended agreement with Telenor for our service in Sweden to include 4G data services demonstrates our commitment to making it easier for our customers to connect with their communities and loved ones across Sweden and the rest of the world.’
Polish MVNO new entrant Premium Mobile has attracted a new investor, Zoltan Varga, who is a prominent shareholder in Hungary-based low-cost airline WizzAir, and who also owns Hungarian publishing group Central Media. As reported by GSMOnline.pl, Mr Varga stated: ‘As shown in previous examples, the development of low-cost services in Poland has a good chance of success, so I believe that Premium Mobile will succeed.’
Filipino broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp, which operates an MVNO under the ABS-CBNmobile brand name, has commenced contract renewal talks with network partner Globe Telecom, the Manila Standard reports. According to the newspaper article, the MVNO claimed around 600,000 subscribers as at 30 September 2016 – a 50% improvement year-on-year. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the original five-year contract between ABS-CBN and Globe was signed in May 2013.
Finally, Pareteum Corporation has announced the signing of a strategic partnership agreement with Brazil-based systems integrator, Cleartech, for the live deployment of Pareteum’s Mobile Virtual Network Enabler (MVNE) services to enterprise and MVNO customers. Pareteum is the company previously known as Elephant Talk; the company formally rebranded on 1 November.
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