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

28 Nov 2016

MTN South Africa has finally confirmed its readiness to enter the country’s fast-growing MVNO sector, and expects to partner with ‘household names’ as it works toward putting wholesale deals in place. Speaking to TechCentral, CEO Mteto Nyati commented: ‘Strategically, as a group, we made the decision that we’d go with MVNOs … The question is how you go about doing it … It has taken us longer [than expected], but we believe this is the right approach. There are big names lined up, household names that have bought into the strategy with us. It’s not like they are rushing. They are also doing their own planning.’ Nyati declined to name any of the companies, however, and a projected launch date remains unclear. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the bulk of South Africa’s existing MVNOs currently piggyback on the Cell C network, including the likes of Virgin Mobile, FNB Connect and MRP Mobile.

Sticking with South Africa, academic bookstore Van Schaik has become the latest company to announce plans to launch an MVNO brand there. According to TechCentral, the ‘student-friendly’ mobile reseller model is expected to launch in January 2017, over the Cell C network. The new virtual operator has been ‘built’ by local mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) MVN-X, and represents the latter’s seventh such deal. Van Schaik currently has more than 150,000 active rewards members who will be each be issued with a SIM card. Together with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, the MVNO intends issuing a further 400,000 cards to would-be users.

i-mobile, part of Thai ICT group Samart Corporation, has confirmed that it plans to abandon its long-standing 3G wholesale agreement with TOT and concentrate solely on its concurrent partnership with CAT Telecom. Samart president Watchai Vilailuck told the Bangkok Post: ‘The contract termination is simply to focus on providing 3G service on a single network [CAT] in order to manage operating costs more effectively and enhance our brand recognition’. The executive noted that the company prioritised CAT because of its greater network coverage: it has 14,536 3G base stations nationwide, while rival TOT has just 5,320. According to the report, the MVNO has roughly 200,000 subscribers across both networks, having shrunk significantly in the last couple of years. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database writes that i-mobile entered into a new wholesale agreement to provide MVNO services over network infrastructure provided by CAT on 22 October 2015. The deal stipulated that CAT would commence providing services within 90 days of the agreement (i.e. by late-January 2016) and run until 3 August 2025. GlobalComms adds that i-mobile launched services on the TOT network in December 2009, reporting 103,000 users by Q1 2013, and growing to 593,000 by mid-2014, but subsequently indicated its user total was shrinking, whilst Thailand’s pre-paid registration scheme (completed in July 2015) removed a further significant portion of i-mobile numbers.

Motorola Solutions has expressed an interest in developing an MVNO in Mexico, in association with Altan, which was recently named the winner of the government’s ‘Red Compartida’ 700MHz wholesale network tender. According to BN Americas, Motorola seeks to target Mexico’s public security entities with the planned MVNO. The shared network, which will have exclusive use of a 90MHz block of spectrum in the 700MHz band, was written into the constitution in 2013, as part of a sector overhaul designed to curb the dominance of America Movil (AM)-backed Telcel.

Finally, according to data from the National Commission for Markets and Competition (Comision Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia, CNMC) the total number of MVNO subscribers in Spain increased to 5.411 million as of 30 September 2016, up from 5.189 million one year earlier. The total means that virtual operators represented around 10.5% of the Spanish mobile market as a whole, at that date.

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