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

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26 Mar 2018

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) has completed the draft of its MVNO regulatory framework after experiencing growing interest from would-be virtual operators. The watchdog has now submitted the framework to government for review after which it will be forwarded to the Attorney General’s office for drafting into statutory regulations for the industry. POTRAZ director general Gift Machengete has been quoted by local press sources as saying that there has been ‘huge interest from investors who are keen to partner with local mobile network operators (MNOs) with idle capacity’.

Sticking with Africa, an unverified report from Kenyan technology site TechWeez – citing ‘a credible source’ – claims that Lycamobile Kenya will stage its long-awaited launch in April this year. TeleGeography notes that the firm’s licence was awarded in November 2015 and confirmed as renewed in July 2017, while negotiations with potential network hosts are understood to be well underway.

Meanwhile, Namibia’s planned MVNOs could launch as early as June or July this year, local publication New Era has reported. Earlier this month, MTN Business Namibia and Demshi Investment Holdings disclosed plans to enter the market via wholesale agreements with Telecom Namibia. MTN was seemingly granted its MVNO concession in 2017 after agreeing to offload a 30% stake to local investors. The stake was acquired by Windhoek-based Profile Technologies, which is owned by local businessman Vaino Nghipondoka.

Over in Japan, Internet Initiative Japan (IIJ) has announced that it made the switch from Light MVNO to Full MVNO on 15 March. IIJ – which operates using the NTT DOCOMO network – claims that it is Japan’s first Full MVNO. The switch has been made possible by IIJ maintaining and operating its own subscriber management systems (home location register [HLR]/ home subscriber server [HSS]) which are part of MVNO core network infrastructure. As such, IIJ is now able to manage its own SIM cards and flexibly design various services.

Polish broadband/pay-TV operator Cyfrowy Polsat and its indirect majority shareholder Zygmunt Solorz-Zak, have reportedly acquired a minority stake in local MVNO Premium Mobile. The MVNO launched over the network of Polsat sister company Polkomtel (Plus) in 2016. The development follows a similar move in January this year, which saw P4 (Play) secure the option to acquire 100% of Virgin Mobile Polska in 2020.

Austrian MVNO Fenercell will shut down on 19 April, according to an announcement on the company website. The operator, which targets expatriate fans of Turkish football club Fenerbahce, launched in March 2015 over the A1 Telekom Austria network.

Alternative Australian fixed line operator TPG Telecom claimed 278,000 TPG-branded MVNO subscribers at 31 December 2017, alongside 143,000 iiNet MVNO customers. The telco acquired 700MHz wireless spectrum in December 2017, and has recently installed cell sites in Sydney and Melbourne, as it seeks to launch as an MNO.

Over in Norway, Komplett Mobil, which operates over the Telenor Norge network, has reached the 50,000-subscriber milestone. The MVNO, which is owned by Scandinavian e-commerce firm Komplett Group launched in the summer of 2016.

Finally, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced that it will initiate a ‘complete review’ of its wholesale mobile wireless framework ‘within the next year’, including its policy on wholesale MVNO access. In previous reviews and decisions, the regulator has repeatedly declined requests to mandate mobile network access for MVNOs/resellers, and therefore such access has remained subject solely to commercial negotiations with network operators. In related news, the watchdog has effectively shut the door on so-called ‘Wi-Fi-first MVNOs’ by clarifying that ‘public Wi-Fi access does not form part of a home network for the purpose of establishing what constitutes incidental use of the national wireless carriers’ networks under the wholesale roaming tariffs’. The issue was dragged into the spotlight by Sugar Mobile, the national MVNO launched by Ice Wireless, a facilities-based MNO that serves rural and remote areas of Canada; Sugar customers used a Rogers-heavy roaming network negotiated by Ice whenever they left their home network.

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