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

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7 Jan 2019

A pair of Malaysian MVNOs have confirmed that they will be exiting the mobile market this month. BuzzMe – the in-house brand used by regional mobile virtual network aggregator (MVNA) Enabling Asia Tech – has announced that it will discontinue its service from 31 January 2019. The virtual operator, which launched over the U Mobile network in May 2013, has advised existing customers that they should port their number to their preferred cellco by 28 January 2019 if they wish to retain it.

Rival MVNO Tron, meanwhile, is shutting down on 17 January 2019, citing an ‘unattainable mutual agreement’ with its host network. The MVNO was launched in October 2011 over the DIGI network, and all SIM cards will switch to the latter unless otherwise advised.

Another MVNO which has ceased trading this month is Portugal’s Phone-ix, which was owned by CTT Correios de Portugal, the Portuguese post office. The MVNO, which launched over the network which now belongs to PT Portugal (MEO) back in 2007 ended its service on 1 January 2019.

Italy has also seen the deactivation of two MVNOs in recent weeks. SIMPiu, which launched in 2016 on the Telecom Italia (TIM) network called it quits on 30 December, while ‘multi-ethnic’ MVNO Ringo Mobile shut down on 31 December. Ringo also operated over the TIM network, having launched in September 2015.

Elsewhere in western Europe, Austria has also seen the withdrawal of two MVNO players this month. As of 1 January 2019 both Media Markt Mobil and Saturn Mobil – a pair of virtual operators which launched over the Hutchison Drei Austria network in June 2016 – ceased trading. The MVNOs are owned by the electronics chains they take their names from, which are both owned by Media-Saturn Holding; the latter is part of the Dusseldorf-based Ceconomy retail group. Subscribers of both MVNOs have been invited to switch to a subscription with another sister company, Ge org!, which operates over the A1 Telekom Austria network, with new SIM cards available free of charge.

On a more upbeat note, Australian MVNO Vocus has signed a five-year contract with host provider Optus to access its 5G network, in a deal worth in excess of AUD200 million (USD140 million). In a statement to the ASX, Vocus chief executive Kevin Russell noted: ‘We have a high degree of confidence in Optus’ leadership in 5G networks and our own potential to innovate and better cater to our customers in mobile, where we have historically had a sub-scale market share.’

Sticking with Australia, MVNOs are likely to have an alternative connectivity option from 2020, via Dense Air Australia, which paid AUD18.5 million for 29 spectrum lots in the 3.6GHz band in December 2018. The Slough-based company – an operating unit of the Airspan Group – bills itself as a ‘new class of wholesale network operator’, and CEO Paul Senior commented: ‘Our mission is to help improve an operator’s 5G business cases, which still remains very challenging for both MNOs and MVNOs alike.’ TeleGeography notes that Dense Air is an affiliate of the UK-based company of the same name, which recently completed the acquisition of 70MHz of 2.5GHz spectrum management rights from Blue Reach and Cayman Wireless in New Zealand. In New Zealand, the telco also seeks to roll out an open-access wholesale network supported by small cells.

In Singapore, VivoHub has selected Tata Communications to turn its VivoBee mobile app into an MVNO designed to meet the needs of Singapore’s one million migrant workers. VivoHub will operate over the StarHub network and utilises Tata’s MOVE platform. VivoHub has offered international direct dialling (IDD) calling cards since 2011 and launched its app in 2016; more than 100,000 users now make an average of 20 million IDD call minutes per month. VivoHub aims to capture 150,000 VivoBee MVNO subscribers within its first year of operation. VivoHub is owned by Malaysian tech firm Green Packet.

The US has a new MVNO in the form of Millennial-focused Tesix Wireless, which has been formed by Alabama-based Chaymeriyia Moncrief. The new player claims to cover 98% of the US via wholesale agreements with three unnamed MNOs. According to, in recent months Tesix has attracted the attentions of private investors who were willing to bankroll the company to the tune of USD5.9 million. The MVNO is poised to launch on 16 January, and will support GSM and CDMA handsets.

Over in Norway, Chili Mobil is close to reaching the 50,000-subscriber milestone. Late last month, CEO Lars Ren Mill told ‘We now have about 47,000 customers and have almost reached the target of 50,000 by the end of 2018.’ Going forward, the MVNO expects to sign up 80,000 customers by end-2019.

Finally, NTT Communications Corporation, an ICT solutions and business within the NTT Group has entered into exclusive negotiations with Transatel over the acquisition of a majority stake in the Paris-based MVNE. Since its inception in 2000, Transatel has launched over 170 MVNOs, and expects to increase its operational presence in Asia following the successful conclusion of the takeover.

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