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

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13 Jan 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has launched a tender to identify new MVNOs wishing to enter the wireless market. The CITC explains: ‘The licensing of new MVNOs will enhance innovation in the provision of services and make more options available to telecommunications and information technology end users in Saudi Arabia. In addition, the licences are expected to generate new jobs in this vital sector of the Kingdom’s economy.’ The licence fee will be priced at SAR5 million (USD1.3 million), while the CITC notes that any companies already in possession of a Facilities Based Unified Telecommunications Services Licence are prohibited from holding a greater-than-5% stake in any new MVNO venture. Successful applicants must establish Saudi-registered companies, while a ‘foreign MVNO partner’ should own or control at least 15% of the share capital of any MVNO consortium for a period of no less than five years. Interested parties are invited to register their interest by 10 May 2020 (please see URL for full list of conditions).

Over in Israel, HOT Mobile – the wireless operator backed by Altice Europe – has teamed up with the Kravitz stationery retail chain to jointly launch a new mobile service that will operate under the K-Mobile brand name. K-Mobile services will be sold via Kravitz retail branches.

Robin Mobile, which was acquired by Nuts Groep (Dutch for ‘Utility Group’) in June 2019, will be rebranded as Budget Mobiel on 17 January. The KPN-powered MVNO was previously owned by Ramphastos Investments and Wilfred Rottier, the virtual operator’s founder and CEO.

According to Kommersant, Russian internet giant Yandex could be the latest company to enter the increasingly crowded domestic MVNO sector. While Yandex has denied the reports, industry insiders maintain that the company is in negotiations with multiple Russian cellcos, although self-styled ‘MVNO Factory’ Tele2 Russia remains the most likely host network. Sources told the newspaper that the project is unlikely to be profitable but will form a valuable part of the company’s ‘ecosystem’.

Orange Polska has announced that its nju mobile sub-brand has reached the one million subscriber milestone as it approaches the seven-year anniversary of its March 2013 launch. Orange notes that 70% of nju subscribers are signed up to its short-term post-paid tariffs. Mariusz Gaca, Vice President of the Management Board for Orange Polska’s Consumer arm commented: ‘When we launched nju mobile over six years ago, we offered our clients something completely new. A simple, cheap offer with no limits or long-term contract.’

Sirius Telecoms Afrique – the would-be Senegalese MVNO that received a licence back in June 2017 – is at loggerheads with its host network provider, Free Senegal (formerly Tigo), and remains unable to launch commercial services. The start-up, which is backed by Mbackiyou Faye, intends to operate under the Promobile brand and utilise the ‘75’ number prefix, but the change of ownership at Free has derailed its ambitions. According to local press reports, by June 2019 Sirius had finalised all the financial, commercial, technical and logistical work required to enable it to launch operations only for its plans to come unstuck. The Authority for Regulation of Telecommunications and Posts (L’Autorite de Regulation des Telecommunications et des Postes, ARTP) subsequently issued ruling No. 2019-018 setting the terms of the commercial deal, but new owner Saga Africa Holdings (Free) – a consortium owned by Xavier Niel-led NJJ, Teyliom Group and Sofima (Axian Group) – has refused to comply. Sirius asserts that it has shown every willingness to agree a deal with Free that will enable it to be competitive in the Senegalese mobile market and create jobs for hundreds of people.

Finally, US wireless operator Sprint has confirmed that it is shutting down its underperforming Virgin Mobile USA sub-brand – almost 18 years after its initial launch. The Virgin Mobile website explains: ‘Please note the Virgin Mobile USA service will be discontinued. We are happy to announce that existing VMU accounts will be transferring to our sister brand Boost Mobile beginning in February.’ The untimely shutdown represents an ignominious end for Virgin – which co-owner Sprint paid USD483 million to acquire outright in 2009. However, the development represents an intriguing sub-plot to the ongoing attempt by Sprint to seal a merger with larger rival T-Mobile US. In July 2019 US satellite TV giant DISH Network agreed to acquire Boost, Virgin and Sprint-branded pre-paid customers – alongside Sprint’s portfolio of nationwide 800MHz spectrum – in a deal valued at USD5 billion.

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