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

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21 Jun 2021

Israeli B2B provider/MVNO Free Telecom (x2one) has reportedly struck an ILS330 million (USD101 million) takeover for 018 Xfone, the country’s smallest mobile network operator (MNO). According to its website, x2one was founded in 2015 by Shmaya Reichman and Yehoshua Teichman, and offers MVNO and MVNE services alongside a full suite of business products. Business daily Globes notes Xfone owner Hezi Bezalel will need permission from the courts to complete the sale because of its ongoing legal issues with Cellcom. There may yet be a twist in the tale, however, with Cellcom claiming that Xfone filed a motion under the insolvency law on 15 June.

Singapore has a new MVNO in the form of Gorilla Mobile. Ms Xanne Leo, the founder and CEO of Gorilla Mobile, told Today Online that the newcomer will differentiate itself my using a proprietary feature known as SwitchBack. Using blockchain technology, it allows customers to turn their unused mobile data into digital tokens, known as Gorilla Go Tokens. These tokens may be used to offset future bills, redeemed for other mobile services or be shared with others. The tokens do not expire. Gorilla Mobile, which received a licence in March, will utilise the M1 network. Intriguingly, Ms. Leo has indicated that the company is considering a market expansion across Southeast Asia, once travel restrictions related to COVID-19 are lifted. She told the news site: ‘We are targeting to first expand to Malaysia and Thailand in the next 18 months. The company will enter Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Korea and Taiwan in the longer term.’

Brazilian football team Sport Club Corinthians Paulista (Corinthians) has launched an MVNO for the third time in just over a decade. Branded Fala Timao, the latest iteration has been facilitated via a three-year wholesale deal with TIM Brasil, which was signed in January this year. Previously, in June 2017 the club launched a short-lived MVNO under the SmarTimao brand name. That service was owned by Mais AD, a now-defunct MVNO launched by the Brazilian arm of the Assembly of God church. Corinthians first attempt to launch an MVNO was in 2010, when it used the Chip do Timao brand.

Sticking with Brazil, ‘freemium’ operator Veek has informed TeleSintese that its services are now available to 58% of the country and it expects to achieve 100% coverage by 2022. CEO Alberto Blanco expects Veek to sign up 200,000 subscribers by end-2021 and reach the one million milestone by 2022.

Over in the US, Verizon Wireless has confirmed plans to shutter its Yahoo! Mobile sub-brand, which was introduced as recently as March 2020. According to the latter’s website, services will be ‘shut off completely no later than 31 August [although] individual lines may terminate earlier depending on your monthly service cycle’. Last month, Verizon announced plans to sell its Verizon Media business to Apollo Global Management in a deal worth USD5 billion. Verizon will retain a 10% stake in the company, which will be known as Yahoo at close.

According to local press reports, Orange Espana and its MVNE unit SUMA Movil have been granted permission to disconnect MVNO/fibre reseller Oniti from Orange’s networks. The MVNO launched in September 2019, but has failed to pay its wholesale fees, prompting the National Commission for Markets and Competition (Comision Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia, CNMC) to endorse Orange’s request. The withdrawal of access is expected to take effect on or around 10 July.

In the UK, Telecom Plus PLC (trading as the Utility Warehouse), which supplies a 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 302,654 at 31 March 2021, up from 280,220 one year earlier. As of end-March, energy customers continued to account for the lion’s share of the company’s end-users (1.079 million), while the company also claimed 324,499 broadband subscribers. The MVNO currently operates over the EE network; in August 2020 the company extended its MVNO agreement with EE for a further five years.

Finally, Swiss full-service provider Sunrise UPC has begun migrating its roughly 280,000 UPC Mobile subscribers from the Swisscom network onto its own infrastructure. The development follows the legal merger of Sunrise Communications and UPC Switzerland, which concluded on 1 May 2021, with the merged entity duly adopting the name Sunrise UPC. Previously, UPC purchased a majority interest in Sunrise in November 2020 via a public tender offer before initiating a squeeze-out to take full-control of the company.

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