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

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29 Jan 2018

Bulgaria could see the launch of its first virtual operator by the end of the year, following the announcement that five regional ISPs and pay-TV providers have teamed up to develop an MVNO joint venture (JV) under the name Mobile Alternative Communications. The five companies in question are Neterra Telecommunications, Net1, Telekabel, Skat and Telesim. All five partners are understood to hold an equal stake in the JV. Negotiations with the country’s mobile operators are ongoing, and a commercial launch is expected to take place by year-end.

US cable giant Comcast has revealed that its Xfinity Mobile MVNO claimed a total of 380,000 subscribers at the end of 2017, up from 250,000 in October. The figure was disclosed by senior executives during a 4Q17 earnings call. Launched in May, the service piggybacks on the Verizon Wireless network, and also leverages Comcast’s 18 million-strong Wi-Fi hotspot network. The MVNO service is currently restricted to cable subscribers, however.

UK satellite TV/broadband provider Sky has confirmed that its Sky Mobile MVNO grew its customer base to 335,000 by 31 December 2017, up from 205,000 three months earlier. Previously, Sky reported 97,000 MVNO subscribers at 30 June, up from 23,000 at 31 March. The company’s SIM-only offer went live in January 2017. Going forward, Sky is committed to launching a Voice-over-Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) service, in an effort to ‘improve airtime margins’.

Also in the UK, TalkTalk has confirmed that its MVNO customers will not have their current contracts reviewed when they expire, as it steps up its previously disclosed plans to exit the mobile sector. Customers will be given the choice of either switching to a different network, or taking ‘a special deal’ from host provider O2 UK. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s MVNO Monday, in September 2017 it was suggested that TalkTalk sought to exit the MVNO market, and return to its roots as a budget ISP. Previously, in May 2017 the telco scrapped plans to build its own UK mobile network leveraging residential hotspots, in favour of maintaining its MVNO agreement with O2 UK. TalkTalk first launched a mobile phone service in 2010, after signing a wholesale deal with Vodafone UK, before switching to the O2 network in 2016.

Investment platform TPG Growth has signed an agreement to acquire a ‘majority stake’ in Afro-urban music and entertainment provider Trace, which operates a South African MVNO under the name Trace Mobile. Trace Mobile launched in December 2017, over the Cell C network, building on an existing branded mobile resale offering.

Over in Russia, Sberbank-Telecom, a subsidiary of Russian banking and financial services firm Sberbank, has confirmed that its MVNO will launch in Moscow and Moscow Region on 1 February, under the Pogorovim (‘Let’s Talk’) brand. The bank is currently seeking 10,000 ‘reviewers’ to provide feedback in exchange for a discounted introductory tariff.

Sticking with Russia, further details have emerged regarding the plans of another Russian bank with designs on the MVNO sector. In an interview with, Oliver Hughes, CEO of online financial services provider Tinkoff Bank, noted: ‘Our target customers are travellers, economically active and socially mobile in all senses of the word – in other words, the Russian middle class … We’re looking to add millions of customers over the next few years. This isn’t small or niche. We’re thinking big.’ Tinkoff Mobile launched as a Full MVNO in December 2017, over the Tele2 Russia network. Discussing the MVNO’s set-up, Hughes added: ‘We’ve built a lot of our own infrastructure in terms of smart routing, deep packet inspection, billing etc. What is more, we built it really quickly.’

Finally, Grupo MASMOVIL, the Spanish MVNO-turned-full-service operator, has confirmed that Providence Equity Partners has completed the sale of 2.8 million shares of MASMOVIL, representing around 8% of the fully diluted shares, or 14% of the shares outstanding. The sale has taken place through an accelerated book building (ABB) process, initially targeting 2.2 million shares. Providence originally invested in MASMOVIL in October 2016. Following the deal, Providence still holds 76% of its initial stake, which corresponds to around 27% of the telco’s fully diluted shares. Further, Providence will retain its two seats on the company’s board. MASMOVIL currently operates in the MVNO space via the Pepephone and Llamaya brands.

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