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

17 Jun 2019

Lebara Group’s bondholders are set to seize control of the UK-headquartered MVNO after a series of financial reporting errors and breaches of debt terms from its owner, Switzerland’s Palmarium, the Financial Times reports. In a statement to the Oslo Stock Exchange, investors that hold more than two-thirds of Lebara’s EUR350 million (USD396 million) Norwegian-listed bond have confirmed their intention to exercise their claim over the ownership of the company after it failed to meet an interest payment earlier this month. As per the FT article, the bondholders also expressed surprise at the size of the fee Palmarium earned from the company for advice relating to the sale of Lebara Spain to Grupo MASMOVIL in November, adding that the fee ‘likely contravenes’ the terms of the bond. TeleGeography notes that Palmarium acquired Lebara through its subsidiary VIEO in September 2017.

Sky Mobile, the MVNO unit launched by UK pay-TV/broadband provider Sky in January 2017 has confirmed that it now has one million customers. Sky Mobile director Sophia Ahmed told Mobile News: ‘Attracting more than one million customers in less than two and a half years shows the power and appeal of our fair and flexible mobile network. Market firsts, such as data rollover with Roll, have helped us reach this milestone. The O2-enabled MVNO added that it will aim to launch 5G services simultaneously with its network host, although an exact date has not yet been disclosed.

Over in the US, new Salt Lake City-based MVNO Gabb Wireless has announced the upcoming launch of what it describes as ‘the nation’s first entirely safe mobile phone and mobile phone network’. The service piggybacks on the network of a national mobile operator (identity not disclosed) and uses a ZTE-built handset which blocks internet browsing and app store access. The company’s Utah-based service will go live on 31 July, with a full nationwide launch expected to take place on Labor Day (2 September 2019). Gabb founder and CEO Stephen Dalby told MVNO Monday: ‘The evidence is clear that too much technology, introduced prematurely, is too dangerous.’ US mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) Ready Wireless has worked alongside Gabb Wireless to launch the new venture, Fred Haumesser, co-founder and chief revenue officer of Ready Wireless, informed TeleGeography.

In another twist relating to the spin-off of Sprint’s pre-paid sub-brand Boost Mobile, Bloomberg has reported that the unit could be sold to either Altice USA or Charter Communications, both of which have a strong interest in the MVNO sector. TeleGeography notes that Altice USA – which owns domestic cablecos Suddenlink and Cablevision – is poised to launch a Full MVNO over the Sprint network later this summer, while Charter entered the MVNO space via Spectrum Mobile in July 2018, leveraging an agreement with Verizon Wireless. The companies are all both understood to be on a shortlist of bidders favoured by the Department of Justice (DoJ), with the antitrust division comfortable with cable companies buying the assets because they are well positioned to become viable wireless competitors. The potential acquisition of Boost Mobile would give each player a significant leg-up in the wireless market.

Finally, Italian website MVNO News says that Austrian MVNO Spusu, which is owned by Mass Response, is close to launching in Italy. As previously reported by MVNO Monday, in April this year Mass Response signed a wholesale contract with Italian provider Wind Tre. MVNO News now reports that the Ministry of Economic Development has handed the newcomer one million numbers with the ‘3780’ prefix, adding that Mass Response has also registered the domain name.

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