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

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6 Mar 2017

China Unicom Global (CUG) has launched a new CUniq-branded MVNO business in the United States, following the successful launch of its UK MVNO in December 2016. Expanding on CUniq UK’s approach, which permits data connectivity in 45 countries, CUniq US has increased the accessible global footprint to 47 countries. Further, mirroring the UK MVNO’s one-card-multiple-number service, CUniq US customers are able to maintain China, Hong Kong and US mobile numbers, which can all be managed using a single account. The company is headquartered in Herndon, Virginia.

UK-based Lycamobile Group is poised to enter the Kenyan MVNO sector, and is reportedly in possession of a concession from the Communications Authority (CA) of Kenya. According to the Daily Nation, Lycamobile Kenya has held a licence since November 2015, while the news site quotes an unnamed Lycamobile spokesperson as saying: ‘Launching an MVNO in a new territory is a long and complicated process, with a number of factors involved. Whilst we have made great strides already, there are still a few stages left to finalise before we can announce the launch of our services in Kenya.’ Meanwhile, a second would-be MVNO is also expected to launch in the near future, in the form of Homeland Media Group, which is owned by Mwingi Central MP Joe Mutambu, and his wife. Homeland will offer services over the Airtel Kenya network, the report notes.

Spain’s National Commission for Markets and Competition (Comision Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia, CNMC) has proposed a draft measure relating to the deregulation of the local MVNO market. The watchdog notes that MVNO markets are no longer included in the European Commission’s (EC’s) Market Recommendations, paving the way for the sector to be deregulated. The CNMC cites the acquisition of fourth network operator Yoigo by MVNO-turned-integrated telecoms provider Grupo MASMOVIL, the emergence of more than ten 4G MVNOs and the 15% market share for virtual operators as key rationales for its decision. The draft measure has now been referred to the EC, the Ministry of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda and the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness for approval. Once the final measure has been approved, a six-month deadline will be proposed within which to lift the existing regulatory obligations.

Tigo Colombia and Uff Movil, the country’s oldest MVNO, have reportedly secured an eleventh-hour deal to preserve the virtual operator’s business. Although the details of the agreement are still being finalised, Uff Movil president Javier Pinzon said users will end up benefiting from the new deal and the MVNO’s relationship with Tigo will emerge even stronger. Local media reports had previously suggested that Tigo was poised to cut Uff Movil off, citing unpaid wholesale fees of COP5 billion (USD1.675 million). Launched in November 2010, Uff Movil saw its user base peak at 529,834 in December 2014, before dwindling to 100,834 at end-September 2016 (most recent data).

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has ruled that Sugar Mobile, the national MVNO launched by Ice Wireless a facilities-based MNO delivering 3G/4G HSPA+ technology to rural and remote areas of Canada, can no longer access Rogers Communications’ roaming network to provide permanent, rather than incidental, wireless service for its customers, effectively terminating what critics have referred to as a ‘backdoor entry model’. Technically, Sugar Mobile relies on Ice Wireless’ network infrastructure, but since Ice only operates in northern Quebec, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Sugar Mobile subscribers use a Rogers-heavy roaming network negotiated by Ice whenever they leave their home network.

According to local news site E24, Norwegian MVNO Chili Mobil has discontinued its wholesale agreement with Telenor Norge, and signed a two-year contract with rival MNO Telia Norge. CEO Lars Ryen Mill told the website: ‘Telia has in recent years not only challenged Telenor, but surpassed them in terms of coverage and speed in the mobile network … Telia has also proven to be a more flexible and accessible partner for us, and our customers will benefit in the future.’ Chili Mobil originally launched over the Telenor network in April 2012.

Sivakumar Kuppusamy, founder and CEO of Aerovoyce, has set his sights on launching an MVNO in the Tamil Nadu telecom circle on 14 April. According to the Economic Times, Mr Kuppusamy has prior telecom investments in Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Austria. No wholesale partner has yet been disclosed.

Finally, Krakow-based solutions provider Comarch has been enlisted by Unleashed, the MVNO management firm owned by Belgian media group Medialaan to assist its virtual brands – Mobile Vikings, JIM Mobile and Stievie – in making the transition to Full MVNO status. Under the terms of the contract, Comarch will also hold the responsibility for overhauling the MVNOs’ respective business support systems (BSS).

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