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

30 Jul 2018

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has formally upgraded 15 of the country’s 42 MVNO concessions from pilot status to full commercial licences. The successful licensees are as follows: Suzhou Snail Digital Technology (trading as Snail Mobile); Shenzhen Youyou Internet Co (UYou); Hongdou Group Co (Hodo Mobile); Yuante (Beijing) Communication Technology (YuanTel); Alibaba Cloud Computing (Beijing) (Ali Telecom); Minsheng Communication (Shenzhen) (Minsheng Communications); Tianyin Communication (Telling Mobile); 263 Network Communication (263 Mobile); Beijing Dixintong Communication Service (D.Phone); Beijing Jingdong 360 Degree E-commerce (JD Mobile); Share Communication Group (Sharing Mobile); Beijing Leyu Communication Technology (More/Funtalk); Xiaomi Technology (Mi Mobile); Hainan Haihang Information Technology (HNA Telecom); and Telephone World Communication Group (T.Mobile).

An MIIT statement noted: ‘After the mobile communication resale business has been officially commercialised, the Ministry will conduct post-event management through measures such as annual report disclosure and credit constraints. [We will] strengthen the cooperative management responsibility of basic telecommunications enterprises, give full play to the role of resale industry organisations, jointly safeguard a good market order, effectively protect the legitimate rights and interests of users and network security, and promote the sustainable and healthy development of the industry.’

Meanwhile, California-based IoT firm Borqs, which owns YuanTel has issued a press release, clarifying that its new licence is valid from 12 July 2018 until 12 July 2023. Further, according to local technology news site C114, the second batch of commercial MVNO licensees are expected to be confirmed within the next two months, while a third and final set of allocations will follow in due course.

US cable giant Comcast has confirmed that it added 204,000 new customers to its Xfinity Mobile MVNO in the second quarter of 2018, increasing its user base to 781,000 at 30 June 2018. The unit generated a loss of USD185 million in 2Q18, its parent noted.

Over in the UK, pay-TV/broadband provider-turned-MVNO Sky – which is itself subject to a takeover attempt from the aforementioned Comcast – has announced that its own Sky Mobile MVNO has passed the 500,000 subscriber milestone. In its most recent quarterly report the satellite firm noted that it added 95,000 subscribers in the three months ended 30 June. Based on previous KPIs provided by Sky, this takes its MVNO base to 532,000.

Sticking with Sky, the multi-play provider has signed what it describes as a ‘long-term deal’ with host network Telefonica UK (O2). According to Sky CEO Stephen van Rooyen, the new contract includes a clause whereby Sky Mobile users will gain access to O2’s planned 5G network as soon as it goes live. Sky’s SIM-only offer went live in January 2017.

Elsewhere in Western Europe, Telecom Italia (TIM) sub-brand Kena Mobile, which went live back in March 2017, has reportedly reached the 500,000 subscriber mark. According to local site MVNO News, Kena – which is technically a subsidiary of Noverca, the mobile virtual network aggregator (MVNA) that has been wholly owned by TIM since October 2016 – reached the milestone in mid-June. The sub-brand previously passed the 300,000 customer mark in March this year. Going forward, the budget player is poised to introduce LTE connectivity later in 2018.

Uff Movil, which became Colombia’s first MVNO when it launched over Tigo’s network back in November 2010, has informed users that it shut down on 27 July; affected users have until tomorrow (31 July) to port their number to an alternative provider. According to local press reports, Uff’s hand was forced by network host TigoUne, which is owed around COP8 billion (USD2.7 million) by the struggling virtual operator.

Over in Uganda, K2 Telecom – which was shut down last month over its failure to pay taxes for four years – will be absorbed by Airtel Uganda, offering a lifeline for the virtual operator’s user base. K2, which is owned by the Buganda Kingdom, a semi-autonomous region in the south of Uganda, had racked up debts of over UGX95 million (USD25,000) prior to its closure. As part of the deal, customers will be able to buy co-branded K2-Airtel sim cards, with K2 receiving loyalty fees from the sales.

In Canada, meanwhile, Bell has announced that its cut-price pre-paid sub-brand Lucky Mobile is now available to residents of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland & Labrador. Lucky initially launched in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia in December 2017 and in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in March 2018, meaning that Canadians in all ten provinces can now access the service.

Multi-national MVNE Plintron has launched an IoT-focused MVNO service in India under the eSIM4Things brand. The service is available on a pan-India basis, and uses the network of state-owned operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). According to the company’s chairman Mohan Sundaram, eSIM4Things is offering: ‘end-to-end services including SIM, connectivity, IoT platform, devices and end-user applications.’

Hong Kong’s Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) has announced that Lycamobile Hong Kong (now renamed Zaritelcom) will not have its licence renewed when it expires at the end of this month. The MVNO ceased operating on 27 April and has not managed to relaunch. A statement on the OFCA website notes: ‘In view of Lycamobile’s failure to demonstrate capability to resume the provision of service in a satisfactory manner, the Communications Authority has decided not to renew Lycamobile’s licence upon its expiry on 31 July 2018. With effect from 1 August 2018, Lycamobile will no longer be authorised to provide any public telecommunications service in Hong Kong. To avoid any financial loss, OFCA reminds members of the public not to purchase any SIM cards of Lycamobile remaining in circulation in the market.’

Finally, US cable giant Charter Communications – which launched its Spectrum Mobile MVNO earlier this month, is currently testing LTE small cells in locations around the country, ahead of imminent trials in New York City and Los Angeles. The cableco hopes to use small cells as a way to offload traffic from the Verizon Wireless LTE network in a bid to cut costs.

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