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

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5 Feb 2018

Chinese regulator the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has published a draft proposal on the allocation of full commercial MVNO licences to the nation’s existing resellers, requesting feedback on the plan by 22 February. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that MVNO services were introduced as a two-year trial in December 2013 but, due to the success of the programme, when the trial ended in December 2015 the MVNOs were permitted to continue offering services until further notice. Indeed, in its public consultation document, the MIIT claimed that by the end of 2017 a total of 42 companies had piloted MVNO services across 29 provinces, with the MVNO subscriber base accounting for more than 4% of the nation’s wireless users – equating to more than 60 million customers – by that date. In addition, the project had attracted more than CNY3.2 billion in private investment and had created nearly 60,000 new jobs. On a less positive note, meanwhile, Zhou Renjie, the head of China Unicom’s regulatory division revealed that around 60% of MVNO customers were active for less than a year. C114 quotes the official as pointing to problems such as unsolicited calls and messages, insufficient attention to service innovation, lack of sustained development motivation and poor implementation of phone number certification for the low level of customer retention.

Elsewhere in Asia, Malaysia has a new MVNO in the form of Yoodo, an ‘independent digital mobile service’ that is owned and operated by Celcom Axiata. Yoodo, which has been launched in conjunction with MATRIXX Software, claims to offer up to 1,000 customisable voice/data/ messaging/content packages, which can be changed, upgraded or downgraded at any time via their mobile app. Farid Yunus, Head of Yoodo, commented: ‘Traditional mobile operators design plans based on what they want to sell the customer, developing various plans and features that don’t fit most customer’s individual needs. We’ve flipped that on its head and enabled customers to make their mobile plans work for them, by providing a real-time, on-demand service that lets people experience full control.’

Japan’s LINE Corp has entered into an agreement with SoftBank Group Corp to give the telecoms giant a majority stake in its LINE Mobile MVNO unit. LINE indicated that SoftBank would hold a 51% stake in the mobile business after the issuance of new shares, with LINE holding the remaining 49%. The transaction is expected to be completed in March. LINE Mobile launched in September 2016, over the NTT DOCOMO network.

Pennytel, the MVNO acquired by MNF Group in 2013, has relaunched with a view to focusing on regional Australia, particularly the over 50s market. The move follows the company’s switch from the Vodafone network to the Telstra network, as revealed in September 2017. MNF Group chief executive Rene Sugo commented: ‘With increasing automation, people are frustrated trying to talk to robots and navigating complex portals. Traditional, human customer service, combined with a streamlined online customer experience will help ensure a positive experience for Australia’s Baby Boomers and retirees when managing their mobile service.’

Telekom Deutschland and German supermarket chain EDEKA have announced plans to launch a new mobile brand, EDEKA smart, this spring. The new brand will be available at all participating EDEKA stores across Germany, and will supersede the current EDEKA mobile brand.

MVNO giant Virgin Group has reportedly launched an MVNO in Russia through B2B ISP Trivon, which has traded as Virgin Connect since 2008. The MVNO operates via a wholesale agreement with Tele2 Russia, and will be targeted at the ISP’s 220,000-strong user base. 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 its airline division Virgin Atlantic was refused the twice-daily London-Moscow slots by the Civil Aviation Authority, losing out to easyjet.

Finally, according to Gabonese press reports, UK MVNO giant Lycamobile Group has resumed discussions with Azur Gabon over a rescue package for the stricken cellco, which is currently owned by Lebanese holding company Bintel Group. A Lycamobile delegation has reportedly staged talks with Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze, Gabon’s Minister of Digital Economy, regarding a takeover, and has pledged to clear the company’s debts. Previously, in November 2017, Bintel and Lycamobile signed a contract which would see the two parties work together on the development of international traffic, the financing of cash requirements, and the deployment of 3G in Gabon and 4G in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Republic of Congo. However, the Gabonese unit has subsequently been threatened with the revocation of its licence – for poor service – casting doubts over its future.

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