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

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27 Nov 2017

MVNO giant Virgin Group is poised to enter the Russian market, via a wholesale agreement with Tele2 Russia. According to ComNews, the service will be managed by B2B ISP Trivon, which has traded as Virgin Connect since 2008. According to company executive Dmitry Baghdasaryan, testing is set to commence this week, initially with company employees. TeleGeography notes that the launch plans come a full five years after the Richard Branson-backed group put its Russian MVNO ambitions on the backburner, after airline group Virgin Atlantic was refused the twice-daily London-Moscow slots by the Civil Aviation Authority, losing out to easyjet.

In the UK meanwhile, China Mobile International could launch an MVNO as early as next month, Tech Radar reports, citing an invitation to a ‘new business launch’ on 13 December. If the launch comes to fruition, China Mobile would become the third Chinese MVNO provider in the UK after China Telecom, which launched CTExcelbiz over the EE network back in May 2012, and China Unicom, which launched CUniq over the O2 network in December 2016.

Sticking with the UK, Telecom Plus PLC (trading as the Utility Warehouse), which supplies a wide range of utility services (gas, electricity, fixed line telephony, mobile telephony and broadband) to both residential and business customers, has reported that its MVNO user base reached 214,243 at 30 September 2017, up from 201,372 on 31 March 2017 and 187,103 back in September 2016. As at 30 September, electricity customers continued to account for the lion’s share of the company’s end-users (557,535), ahead of gas (451,053), fixed telephony (321,034) and broadband (280,393). The MVNO currently operates over the EE network.

Also in Great Britain, details have emerged regarding the genesis of Three UK’s surprise sub-brand SMARTY, which quietly launched in August this year. Daniel O’Connell, Product Strategist at Adaptive Lab – which helped launch the sub-brand – told European Communications: ‘I think SMARTY was an experiment in working practices as well as an experiment in the mobile market. It was given a mandate to challenge working models of the mothership … Beta businesses are what big companies need to do to succeed in the long term. They need to be more experimental and behave more like start-ups than big corporations.’ The sub-brand’s team was drawn from Three and Adaptive personnel, and given a brisk six-month deadline to create, develop and launch an offering. Befitting the sub-brand’s minimalist roots, you cannot call abroad with a SMARTY SIM and roaming is not yet available, the report adds.

Toka, a Mexican company which specialises in electronic payment solutions, has enlisted Indian telecoms solutions provider XIUS to enable the launch of its Tokamovil MVNO in Mexico. The new virtual operator will utilise the Movistar Mexico network. Toka, which was formed around 15 years ago, currently serves more than one million customers, and claims that it has been awarded more than 5,000 contracts with private companies and over 250 tenders by Mexico’s state agencies.

Orange Caraibe, which is active across the French overseas territories of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Martin and French Guiana, has launched the budget brand Sosh in all of its markets. The new sub-brand is said to be a ‘100% digital’ proposition, and customer service will be community-sourced. The Sosh brand name was launched in the French metropole (mainland) by Orange France back in October 2011.

Singapore-based ISP MyRepublic hopes to launch its long-awaited MVNO service in the first quarter of 2018, CEO Malcolm Rodrigues has informed the Straits Times. Although he declined to name its wholesale partner, the chief executive confirmed: ‘We are already plugged into the local mobile operator and are testing SIM cards.’ The telco originally hoped to stage a commercial launch before end-2017.

Elsewhere in Asia, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has clarified that Line Mobile, the Digital Total Access Communication (DTAC) sub-brand launched in September this year, does not need to apply for an MVNO licence, as suggested by rival cellcos AIS and True. However, the Bangkok Post reports that the NBTC has ordered Line Mobile to amend its online registration system as it violates existing regulations, which require registration to be done at a service point with an ID card.

Danish MVNO Plenti will reportedly be moving its user base from the legacy 3 Denmark network to that of TDC during the course of December. The migration follows Plenti’s acquisition by TDC in September this year. The MVNO reached 90,000 subscribers in August 2017, up from 50,000 at end-2016. Plenti was founded in September 2015 by Morten Strunge and Peter Maegbae.

Tesco Mobile Ireland has extended its decade-long voice termination partnership with BT Ireland by a further two years, it has announced. The contract, which is worth in excess of EUR10 million (USD11.9 million), will see BT process Tesco Mobile voice calls all over the world.

Finally, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken steps to roll back Lifeline, the programme that subsidises telecoms services for low-income households. Before the vote, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said that the purpose of the changes would help reduce ‘waste, fraud, and abuse that continue to plague the Lifeline programme’. The FCC voted in a 3-2 split along party lines (favouring Republicans) to reform the programme during the agency’s monthly open meeting on Thursday 16 November. Further, in a move that could have a significant impact on the US MVNO market, the FCC is also considering barring MVNOs from offering Lifeline plans, but is taking public comment on this item first. In a dissenting statement, FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that the MVNO rule could mean that ‘over 70% of wireless Lifeline consumers will be told they cannot use their preferred carrier and preferred plan’.

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