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

20 May 2019

Utilita Mobile is now live in the UK, having launched pre-paid services via Transatel’s MVNA platform. The newcomer offers a range of pre-paid SIM-only bundles, starting at GBP5 (USD6.4) per month. Utility firm Utilita has 693,000 energy subscribers in the UK (as of January 2019) and is a considered to be a pioneer in tech and utility distribution, having installed Britain’s first smart meter back in 2008.

Elsewhere in the UK, iD Mobile has reportedly reached one million post-paid customers, having added around 200,000 connections between May 2018 and April 2019. The Dixons Carphone-backed MVNO operates over the Three UK network and launched back in May 2015. Managing director Adam Dunlop told Mobile News: ‘We’re absolutely delighted about hitting the million milestone within four years of starting up, with our proposition being around data and flexibility for customers. Carphone Warehouse and Curry’s PC World have both been brilliantly supportive in providing access for iD Mobile in the retail channel and a huge factor in us achieving this landmark.’

UK-based Truphone has sealed a deal to utilise the Orange France 4G network as part of its continued geographic expansion. France will join the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Spain, Hong Kong and Australia to become the ninth country in which Truphone operates an MVNO. Billed as a ‘specialised enterprise-oriented player’, the new unit is expected to go live later this year.

Over in Japan, ISP-turned-MVNO IIJ has reported that its IIJmio consumer MVNO subscriber base reached 1.063 million at 31 March 2019, up from 1.005 million one year earlier. In the enterprise sector, meanwhile, IIJ reported that its ‘Mobile MVNO Platform Service’ accounted for 1.048 million subscribers at the same date, up from 824,731 year-on-year.

Malaysian MVNO redONE will enter the Singaporean mobile market in the near future, as it ramps up its South East Asian expansion plans, which are also expected to include Thailand. The MVNO, which piggybacks on the Celcom Axiata network, claims more than one million subscribers in its domestic market, having reached that milestone in September last year. While the MVNO has yet to launch, a Singaporean website is now live, with the tagline: ‘redONE is bringing excitement to the Lion City!’

Mark Callander, CEO of Vocus Communications New Zealand, has poured scorn on the Commerce Commission’s latest mobile market study, observing: ‘We’ve been selling mobile plans through an MVNO for more than a decade now and have a grand total of 26,000 customers – and we are the largest MVNO in the country … We were expecting the Commission to realise that mobile operators have been paying mere lip service to mobile competition and to propose measures to increase competition and benefit New Zealand consumers … Quite frankly they have missed the mark by a long, long way here.’

Sticking with New Zealand, Vodafone New Zealand is likely to launch a new ‘no-frills’ sub-brand under the stewardship of new owner, Infratil. Infratil chief executive Marko Bogoievski told Stuff.co.nz: ‘We are more open to fixed wireless, unlimited [mobile] broadband plans, sub-brands or ‘fighter’ brands, wholesale models, and infrastructure sharing than Vodafone PLC would have been.’ The introduction of a new sub-brand would see Vodafone go toe-to-toe with Spark’s cut-price Skinny unit.

In Kyrgyzstan, KT Mobile – a subsidiary of national fixed line operator Kyrgyztelecom – has missed its scheduled 8 May MVNO launch date, after a number of behind-the-scenes issues, including a spate of resignations by senior KT Mobile personnel. Previously, in December 2018 state-owned MegaCom won a contract to partner KT Mobile in developing nationwide cellular services. The deal also saw KT Mobile share its long-dormant mobile frequencies with MegaCom for a fee, to allow the latter to upgrade network quality and expand coverage in remote and hard-to-reach settlements.

Z Mobile has accused its network operator partner Kosovo Telecom of breach of contract and has demanded compensation relating to a December 2016 ruling from an international arbitration tribunal in its favour. KOHAnet quotes the operator as saying that it had spent the last two years trying to find an amicable resolution with the telco but was now ‘left no room to hope that in the coming period Telecom will respect its obligations’. As such, Z Mobile said it was forced to call for the enforcement of the court’s decision, demanding compensation for the losses incurred due to Telecom’s ‘negligence’ – a sum totalling around EUR26 million (USD29.1 million). The court’s initial verdict had revolved around Telecom’s failure to provide sufficient SIM cards and numbering resources, its refusal to allow Z Mobile to offer 3G and 4G services and an alleged reduction in service quality. Whilst Z Mobile is now able to provide 3G/4G data services, it claims that Telecom is continuing to fall short of its contractual obligations. A meeting earlier this month between senior government officials as well as representatives from both providers saw the pair reach an agreement allowing Kosovo Telecom until 15 June 2019 to prepare a payment plan for the EUR26 million. The situation has sparked controversy in parliament, however, with legislators blaming Z Mobile for Telecom’s current financial difficulties, accusing the MVNO of blackmail and calling for a ban on MVNOs in the republic. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in May 2017 Z Mobile chose to waive the bulk of the financial penalty imposed on Telecom by the arbitration court, amidst concerns it would bankrupt the incumbent.

Finally, self-styled ‘global telecom travel solutions’ provider Voxsim has signed a deal with UK-based x-Mobility to introduce an ‘AppVNO’ service, which will allow global travellers to make and receive international calls and texts over a new app, which will also provide them with local numbers. The service, which is due to launch in the summer, is expected to complement Voxsim’s existing SIM-based offering for international clients.

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