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

26 Nov 2018

A new MVNO targeting the 1.5 million British expatriates in Spain is poised to launch under the Lobster brand. The new service, which will utilise the Telefonica Espana (Movistar) network for connectivity, will seek to offer English language customer service and boasts the motto: ‘The full English mobile’. The management team is being led by Gabriel Miguez, a former Telefonica and Yoigo executive, while the business will be owned by Zinnia Telecomunicaciones, an affiliate of Gibraltar’s Gibtelecom.

Sticking with Spain, full-service telecoms provider Grupo MASMOVIL has agreed to acquire ethnic-focused MVNO Lebara Spain in a transaction valued at EUR55 million (USD62.3 million). Lebara, which accounts for around 423,000 subscribers, currently utilises the Vodafone Spain network for connectivity, although this deal is set to expire in the second quarter of 2019. MASMOVIL notes that Lebara Spain has generated revenues of around EUR50 million in the last twelve months. The MVNO was sold by Netherlands-based VIEO, which acquired Lebara Group in September 2017.

Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa (VMMEA) is exploring a number of strategic options, including selling all or part of itself, people with knowledge of the matter have informed Bloomberg. The company is working with Evercore to assess its options, which may include an initial public offering (IPO). However, discussions are at a preliminary stage and no final decisions have been made. VMMEA operates as Virgin Mobile in Saudi Arabia and South Africa, and as FRiENDi mobile in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Malaysia. It was established in 2012 via the merger of the regional operations of Virgin Group and Middle Eastern MVNO FRiENDi Group. Virgin’s co-investors in VMMEA include Gulf Investment Corporation, ePlanet Ventures, National Technology Enterprises Company, Dolphin International and Global Telecom.

South Africa’s Standard Bank launched its eagerly anticipated Standard Bank Mobile MVNO on 21 November, over the Cell C network. The service is currently restricted to existing Standard Bank clients, however. Going forward, the MVNO plans to provide handsets in the first quarter of 2019, which will be available on monthly payment plans, and to add broadband services, including fixed-wireless LTE and fibre-based packages, soon thereafter.

A separate report from Tech Central notes that the launch of Standard Bank Mobile means that Cell C now has 19 MVNO using its infrastructure, including the likes of FNB Connect and Mr Price Mobile. The 19 MVNOs have 1.7 million customers between them, and Cell C generated revenue of ZAR486 million (USD35.1 million) from these companies in the first half of 2018.

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 236,698 at 30 September 2018, up from 221,716 one year earlier. As at 30 September, electricity customers continued to account for the lion’s share of the company’s end-users (565,463), ahead of gas (458,071), fixed telephony (329,186) and broadband (293,426). The MVNO currently operates over the EE network.

Over in Poland, Rzeczpospolita reports that Virgin Mobile Polska ended the third quarter of 2018 with 427,400 customers. Elsewhere, Telecompaper reports that Polish MVNO Telestrada ended the quarter with 67,720 active mobile users. The full-service operator also offers standalone wireless services under the Lajt Mobile brand.

Finally, US retailer Best Buy has confirmed that its previously announced USD792 million acquisition of domestic MVNO GreatCall closed on 1 October. The completion of the takeover was detailed in the retail group’s 3Q18 financial report.

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