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

4 Jun 2018

US ‘freemium’ MVNO FreedomPop has unveiled plans to launch a new MVNO brand called UNREAL Mobile as it seeks to take advantage of the competitive environment created by the proposed merger between T-Mobile US and Sprint. Mauricio Sastre, FreedomPop’s SVP of strategy and carrier relations, is quoted as saying: ‘A year ago, there was no way Sprint would have allowed us to offer UNREAL. Today however, their hands are tied, as Sprint and T-Mobile are held up in regulatory approvals contingent on their ability to demonstrate that competition won’t suffer. Given that FreedomPop’s platform is enabling large companies like DISH to launch new MVNO brands in months, we decided to use it for our own purposes.’ UNREAL Mobile will offer unlimited services starting at USD15 per month; a commercial launch is expected this summer, following Beta testing.

In related US news, Peter Adderton, the founder and former CEO of Boost Mobile USA, is taking a public stance against the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile. Boost – currently a Sprint sub-brand – was launched over the Nextel network in 2001, acquired by Nextel in 2003, and ultimately absorbed by Sprint in 2006, following its 2006 takeover of Nextel. A press release distributed by Adderton argued: ‘If the Boost Mobile and MetroPCS [acquired by T-Mobile in May 2013] brands are included in this merger, it would be bad for the overall competitive landscape, bad for the pre-paid market, bad for our country’s MVNOs, and bad for the economy. Therefore, I’m contacting regulators and lawmakers, asking that they give specific consideration to the ramifications of this merger on pre-paid wireless consumers. And I’m asking for formal regulation of wholesale pricing for MVNOs so that these important industry players can compete fairly and generate a reasonable profit.’ Adderton, who believes that MetroPCS, Boost and Virgin Mobile USA [another Sprint sub-brand] account for around 40% of the country’s pre-paid users, told Fierce Wireless: ‘It’s my baby, so I would love to take control of it.’

One Virgin Mobile unit which definitely will not be part of any future deal-making is Virgin Mobile Australia, which will be phased out over the course of the next two years, parent company Optus has confirmed. New Virgin Mobile connections will cease on 15 June 2018, however. Ben White, Optus Managing Director, Marketing & Product, commented: ‘As they are already connected to the Optus network, Virgin Mobile customers can continue to use their service in the same way they always have. We have a special transition plan in place to make sure the impact to customers is minimal, and the experience they have during this time is a positive one.’

Over in New Zealand meanwhile, Australian online retailer has announced that it is launching its Kogan Mobile offering in New Zealand using the Vodafone New Zealand network. The company’s executive director, David Shafer, cited Kogan Mobile’s success in Australia as an MVNO in making its decision to launch in New Zealand, saying: ‘In Australia, Kogan Mobile has been delivering on its promise to save Aussies more of their hard-earned money, and hundreds of thousands of customers have already migrated to Kogan Mobile in Australia over the past two years.’ As previously reported by MVNO Monday, Kogan Mobile Australia re-entered the wireless space in late-2015, in association with Vodafone Australia. That move came two years after its original Telstra-powered MVNO shut down.

Orange Belgium and MEDIALAAN have signed a five-year wholesale agreement which will see the media group’s MVNO brands switch from the BASE network. MEDIALAAN-backed Unleashed, which describes itself as the ‘base camp’ for the three consumer brands – Mobile Vikings, JIM Mobile and Stievie – notes that the new wholesale agreement will take effect from the spring of 2019, and involve the migration of some 365,000 virtual customers.

Telefonica Espana (Movistar) is poised to introduce the O2 brand as it seeks to target the country’s budget segment. The new brand – which has been in use in the UK since 2002, following its introduction by previous owner BT – will be headed by the newly-recruited Pedro Serrahima, the founder and former CEO of Spanish MVNO *Pepephone*, which is now owned by *Grupo MASMOVIL*. Local press sources have suggested that the new brand could be introduced as early as September this year, and is also likely to encompass fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity.

Over in Botswana, local firm Kometsi Telecommunications and Namibia-based Demshi Investment Holdings have signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) with a view to launching an MVNO – or ‘any appropriate regulator-approved model’. The companies will utilise the telecoms licence which was awarded to Business Solutions Consultants in 2007 by the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA). As previously reported by MVNO Monday, Demshi is currently in the process of launching an MVNO in Namibia using the Telecom Namibia network, and hopes to extend its business model to other markets in southern Africa.

Sticking with Africa, the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has ordered the closure of local MVNO K2 Telecom after the company failed to pay taxes for four years. K2, which is owned by the Buganda Kingdom, a semi-autonomous region in the south of Uganda, has racked up debts of over UGX95 million (USD25,000), according to a report from New Vision. A URA spokesperson said that the reseller will be allowed to commence operations again if it is able to clear the debt. K2 launched wireless services as Uganda’s first MVNO on 1 January 2013, utilising the network of Orange (now Africell)

Over in Russia, ethnic MVNO SIM Telecom (SIM SIM) is reportedly in discussions with Tele2 Russia over the launch of a new virtual operator, which will seek to target different, as yet unconfirmed segments of the market. The MVNO, which launched in November 2014 over the Beeline network, and was relaunched in 2016 after the host operator acquired a majority stake in the MVNO, was sold in April this year.

Sticking with Russia, a new MVNO has launched in Moscow and St Petersburg, known as DANYCOM. The newcomer, which launched on 1 June, is understood to operate over the Tele2 Russia network. A second Russian MVNO to launch on 1 June was Easy4, which is reportedly owned by EasyCall, a company which operates telecoms services in markets such as Turkey, China, Netherlands, Spain and Germany. The MVNO is said to operate over both the MTS and Tele2 Russia networks.

Finally, HoT Mobil Slovenia, which launched on 11 May 2017 using the A1 Slovenia network, has signed up 40,000 subscribers in its first year of service, executive director Eva Aljancic informed the local media late last month. The MVNO was launched by Austrian mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) Ventocom. Local press sources noted that Ventocom Slovenia was listed as the sole shareholder; the local holding company is owned by Ventocom (95%) and director Aljancic (5%).

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Australia, Belgium, Botswana, New Zealand, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Uganda, United States, DANYCOM, FreedomPop, HoT Mobil Slovenia, JIM Mobile, K2 Telecom, Kogan Mobile New Zealand, Kometsi Telecommunications, Mobile Vikings (Belgium), Orange Belgium, SIM Telecom (SIM SIM), Telefonica Espana (Movistar), UNREAL Mobile, Virgin Mobile Australia, Virgin Mobile USA

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