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

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23 Nov 2020

Kazakhstan has its second MVNO, with the announcement of Jysan Mobile, a virtual operator affiliated with local financial institution Jysan Bank. The newcomer is launching over the Tele2/Altel network, with KazTransCom acting as the project’s technical integrator. Aibek Kayip, Chairman of the Management Board of Jysan Bank, commented: ‘The launch of the Jysan Mobile virtual operator is a breakthrough in the development of our Jysan ecosystem and provides new benefits to our clients. The bank’s active clients will actually be able to get free mobile communication services and additional bonuses that can be used within the ecosystem – in the mobile application, internet banking and the Jmart marketplace.’ First Heartland Jysan Bank has been operating in Kazakhstan’s financial market since 1992. The bank currently operates 100 branches across Kazakhstan.

In neighbouring Russia, retail giant Magnit is preparing to launch an MVNO service over the Tele2 Russia network. According to Telecom Daily, Magnit has already received a licence and number capacity in the Rostov region, where the service will be piloted. The 28,500 numbers granted to Magnit previously belonged to Skylink. As of 30 September 2020 Magnit operated a total of 21,154 stores in 65 regions of Russia, serving around twelve million customers on a daily basis.

Sticking with Russia, the recently retired mixed martial arts (MMA) star Khabib Nurmagomedov is said to be planning his own MVNO launch under the Khabib Telecom (Eagle Mobile) name. The brand is a reference to the fighter’s nickname, the ‘Dagestani Eagle’. The company is said to be owned by Nurmagomedov, Mark Gorsky and TVE-Telecom. Sources have stressed that Nurmagomedov will be the face of the brand, but not involved in the day-to-day operations. When it goes live, the MVNO will operate via the Tele 2 network.

South African retailer Pick n Pay has launched PnP Mobile over the MTN South Africa network. PnP is the first virtual operator to launch services over MTN’s new MVNO platform. Pick n Pay Chief Technology and Services Officer Richard van Rensburg commented: ‘Mobile technology is core to South Africans’ way of life and an essential part of the monthly grocery shop … This new Smart Shopper innovation means that customers walk out our stores with affordable groceries, points on their card and now free data on their PnP Mobile SIM card.’

Prompted by MTN’s entrance into the MVNO wholesale sector – previously dominated by cash-strapped Cell CVodacom South Africa has revealed plans to build its own platform to support MVNOs. In an interview with TechCentral, Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub commented: ‘We will have an MVNE platform available and we will have services to support them. It shouldn’t take too long. Hopefully after the spectrum auction [in March 2021] we’ll be ready to launch. Already, if you want to be an MVNO, you are welcome to approach us.’

Camara de Cooperativas de Telecomunicaciones (Catel), which represents a large number of telecoms cooperatives across Argentina, has confirmed that it will launch its delayed MVNO service in the first half of 2021. The newcomer will operate under the imowi brand. Co-ops participating in the initiative include: Cooperativa de Provision y Comercializacion de Servicios Comunitarios de Radiodifusion (COLSECOR); Cooperativa Telefonica de Vivienda y Otros Servicios Publicos Del Viso (TELVISO); Cooperativa Electrica de Monte (COOPMONTE); Cooperativa Telefonica de Pinamar (TELPIN); Cooperativa de Provision de Servicios Publicos de Tortuguitas; and Cooperativa Telefonica de Villa Gdor. Galvez (TELVGG). Catel was awarded an MVNO concession by the National Communications Agency (Ente Nacional de Comunicaciones, ENACOM) in December 2017 and went on to sign a wholesale contract with Movistar Argentina the following year.

After two postponed launches, Belgian MVNO Neibo has commenced operations over the Orange network. Billed as ‘the first mobile phone cooperative in Belgium’, Neibo was founded by Quentin Verstappen. The founder told Bruzz.be: ‘We will offer the same as the other telecom operators: calling, texting and mobile surfing. But anyone who takes a cooperative share – and that is possible from EUR20 – we also offer transparency and participation. Transparency about the policy: every cooperative may attend the annual general meeting. And participation: everyone can participate in the decision-making process on the distribution of profits.’ Neibo ultimately needs between 12,000 and 15,000 subscribers to be profitable, he added.

Australia saw the launch of two MNO sub-brands this week. Firstly, TPG Telecom launched felix, which offers a digital MVNO experience via the Vodafone Hutchison Australia network. Vodafone – which merged with TPG Telecom in July this year – initially registered the felix brand in October last year. Shortly after felix went live, Optus launched Gomo. The latter service is offering potential users an AUD1 (USD0.73) per month introductory package, although this offer is limited to the first 5,000 sign-ups.

The proposed takeover of Dutch SIM-only MVNO Simpel by T-Mobile Netherlands has been approved by the Authority for Consumers & Markets (Autoriteit Consument & Markt, ACM) and is set to close on 1 December 2020. Simpel was founded in 2007 by Jasper de Rooij and has been using the T-Mobile network since 2014. The MVNO boasts one million subscribers.

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 288,567 at 30 September 2020, up from 267,427 one year earlier. As of 30 September, energy customers continued to account for the lion’s share of the company’s end-users (1.063 million), while the company also claimed 324,993 broadband subscribers. The MVNO currently operates over the EE network.

Finally, Canada’s CIK Telecom, an ISP based in Markham, Ontario, which claims to serve around 200,000 subscribers (including TV, telephony and broadband services), has launched a new mobile service. TeleGeography understands that CIK has launched its mobile plans using the PhoneBox travel SIM service, which itself leverages the Rogers and Telus networks. The launch represents a rare flicker of activity in the Canadian MVNO market. Conventional MVNOs have historically struggled to gain a foothold in Canada, with the nationwide MNOs – Rogers, Telus and Bell – proving reticent to open their networks to independent MVNOs. Instead, the MNOs have filled the vacuum with their own sub-brands, or ‘flanker brands’.

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Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom, Camara de Cooperativas de Telecomunicaciones (Catel, imowi), CIK Telecom, felix, Gomo Communications (Australia), Jysan Mobile, Khabib Telecom (Eagle Mobile), Magnit Mobile, Neibo, Optus Mobile, Pick n Pay (PnP Mobile), Simpel, T-Mobile Netherlands, Telecom Plus (Utility Warehouse), Vodacom South Africa, Vodafone Australia (TPG Telecom Limited)