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

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25 Jun 2018

The US has a new MVNO in the form of Armed Forces Mobile, trading as AF Mobile. The pre-paid provider says that it is dedicated to helping veterans returning from war, and will donate a portion of its profits to those ex-servicemen considered most at risk due to a lack of support systems. CEO Tony Smart, a Marine Corps veteran, has stated: ‘This is a no-veteran-left-behind mission that uses great cellular phone service for the consumer as its fuel. It’s a win/win arrangement.’ The MVNO is understood to use the T-Mobile US network, but this has not been formally confirmed. The newcomer will hope that its business model proves more sustainable than the defunct Defense Mobile, which launched in 2015, but stopped trading in 2016. That company was aimed at the 1.4 million Americans on active military duty and their immediate families plus veterans.

Sticking with the US, UNREAL Mobile – the new budget brand recently unveiled by established MVNO FreedomPop – has officially launched with a USD10 per month plan, which includes unlimited voice and SMS access and 1GB of LTE usage. SIM cards are available online, and in selected branches of Target and Best Buy. According to Android Central, the service attracted 50,000 Beta users in the month since its launch plans were announced.

Also stateside, Oregon-based MVNO Consumer Cellular is on course to reach the three million customer mark this year, Fierce Wireless reports, and currently counts 2.9 million subscribers. The virtual operator, which became a preferred provider for members of the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) back in 2008, previously disclosed that it had signed up 2.75 million customers in May, and 2.1 million in August 2016. In June 2017 the MVNO augmented its original AT&T Mobility wholesale deal with network access from T-Mobile US.

Over in Singapore, ISP MyRepublic launched its long-awaited StarHub-powered MVNO on 21 June. The telco – which lost out to Australia-based TPG Telecom in its bid to become Singapore’s fourth mobile network operator (MNO) in 2016 – currently offers Gigabit fixed broadband connectivity via the city-state’s optical fibre Next Generation National Broadband Network (Next Gen NBN). CEO Malcolm Rodrigues has told the Business Times that he wants MyRepublic turning a profit by the first quarter of next year, so it will not be loss-making when it stages an initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong. He added: ‘We’ll break even at less than 3% market share, but we think that we can achieve a 5% market share, across the market, and that’ll be profitable for us.’ Going forward, Rodrigues seeks to launch in eight-to-ten new markets within two years of going public, with Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia named as priority markets.

Vodafone Italy has formally launched its discount sub-brand, ho, as it seeks to combat the recent arrival of Xavier Niel-backed newcomer Iliad, which has drastically undercut its established rivals with its EUR5.99 monthly tariff. For its part, ho offers users a monthly subscription priced at EUR6.99, including 30GB of 4G data, unlimited voice calls and unlimited SMS. Iliad claims that its package – which includes the same data/voice/SMS allowance as ho – is being made available to the first one million subscribers and will be available indefinitely. ho, meanwhile, has urged would-be subscribers to sign up by 31 July, suggesting a limited time-frame for its own offer.

Finally, in 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 221,716 at 31 March 2018, up from 201,372 one year earlier. As at 31 March, electricity customers continued to account for the lion’s share of the company’s end-users (555,721), ahead of gas (449,810), fixed telephony (321,494) and broadband (283,518). The MVNO currently operates over the EE network.

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