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

20 Aug 2018

US retail giant Best Buy has announced the USD800 million takeover of GreatCall, an MVNO which has operated over the Verizon Wireless network since being established back in 2006. GreatCall, which presides over a user base of 900,000, is active within the ‘connected health’ sector, providing health and safety products to older adults. David Inns, CEO of GreatCall, commented: ‘We are excited to partner with Best Buy to serve the active aging population on a bigger scale. GreatCall is already a growing, profitable business with annual revenue in excess of USD300 million.’ The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions and is expected to close by the end of Best Buy’s fiscal 2019 third quarter.

Thai MVNOs have urged the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to loosen existing regulations to help spur growth within the reseller segment. According to the Bangkok Post, MVNOs are asking the regulator to reduce numbering fees from the current THB2.0 (USD0.06) per month, and to shorten the holding period for inactive numbers before they are resold on the market. Furthermore, the existing biometric verification registration system for new SIM cards creates an additional cost, the MVNOs have complained. Suroj Lamsam, president of Loxley Plc, the parent company of Loxley Mobile, which owns the i-Kool brand, told the newspaper: ‘We [i-Kool] have booked operating losses in the amount of THB1.9 million per year.’ He noted that the MVNO serves just 5,000 active subscribers after eight years of operations.

Over in Russia, Moscow-based ISP AKADO Telecom has disclosed plans to enter the wireless market via an MVNO agreement with Tele2 Russia. According to business daily Kommersant, the service could go live as early as September, and will initially be offered to the cableco’s residential and business users.

Sticking with Russia, mobile network operator (MNO) MegaFon will terminate its VKmobile MVNO service on 14 September. Subscribers are allowed to switch to MegaFon SIM cards free of charge in the cellco’s retail branches. Launched in July 2017, VKmobile was integrated with online social media network VKontakte, itself indirectly owned by MegaFon via its 63.8% stake in Mail.ru Group. Reports of MegaFon’s decision to discontinue VKmobile first emerged in March this year, with company executives citing disappointing take-up.

A US appeals court has blocked the November 2017 decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to roll back Lifeline, the programme that subsidises telecoms services for low-income households, in Tribal lands. TeleGeography notes that more than 1,000 providers participate in the Lifeline programme – a large number of which are MVNOs. On Friday 10 August, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stayed the FCC decision pending appeal, saying that Tribal organisations and small wireless carriers are likely to win their case against the watchdog. A statement by the court noted: ‘Petitioners have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their arguments that the facilities-based and rural areas limitations contained in the Order are arbitrary and capricious. In particular, petitioners contend that the FCC failed to account for a lack of alternative service providers for many tribal customers.’ As previously reported by MVNO Monday, also in November 2017 – in a move that could have a significant impact on the US MVNO market – the FCC revealed that it was also considering barring MVNOs from offering Lifeline plans.

Finally, Iranian MVNO Amin has reportedly launched a new brand targeting parents who want to monitor the data usage of their children. Known as Teentaak, the new 4G-capable SIM cards are designed to ‘shield the youngsters against the possible negative effects of the internet’, the Financial Tribune reports. Online activity can be monitored via an app on the parent’s own mobile phone, while plans are underway to deliver school curriculums, grade papers and educational videos via the service.

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