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

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13 Dec 2021

Canada’s SaskTel has unveiled the launch of a new digital sub-brand called Lum Mobile. Lum (pronounced ‘loom’) will be a fully digital mobile model that will support a self-serve wireless offering to customers that prefer to manage their own service online with more affordable prices than a full-service model. Don Morgan, Minister Responsible for SaskTel, commented: ‘SaskTel’s introduction of Lum Mobile is a new way of offering wireless service to the residents of Saskatchewan, all while enjoying the great coverage of SaskTel’s existing network. Lum Mobile will let customers sign up, and modify their service through a mobile app, allowing for a more personalised cellular experience.’

Mexico has a new MVNO in the form of Gamers Mobile. The virtual operator is an offshoot of video game retailer Game Planet and operates via the open access Red Compartida network. The newcomer will seek to attract video game enthusiasts with its data-heavy packages, which are said to include ‘Casual Gamer’, ‘Pro Gamer’ and ‘Hardcore Gamer’ options.

Sticking with Latin America, 317 small-scale Brazilian ISPs have agreed to collaborate on an MVNO joint venture. The consortium – billed as ISPs do Brasil – expects to launch mobile services in 2022, although a network partnership has not yet been secured. According to TeleTime, the MVNO consortium has its roots in a larger-scale tie-up, which vied for frequencies in Brazil’s recent 5G spectrum auction. The original consortium comprised 420 ISPs, although a number of players have since dropped out of the scheme.

Lycamobile has confirmed that it has activated 5G access for its users in the UK and the US. The UK-based MVNO piggybacks on the O2 network, while its US partner is T-Mobile US. However, the group has clarified that the upgrade is currently restricted to customers with Android handsets. Lyca Group CEO Navanit Narayan commented: ‘We believe our customers should be able to take advantage of the benefits of ultra-fast next generation 5G connectivity, which is why we are excited to offer our customers using 5G enabled Android devices this service in the UK and US at no extra cost.’

International MVNE Plintron – which was awarded a Russian MVNO licence back in December 2020 – has agreed to use the ‘technological infrastructure’ of local MNO Tele2 Russia as it seeks to gain a foothold in the mobile sector. The press release notes: ‘Tele2 and Plintron are already ready to launch MVNOs in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The geography of services offered will expand depending on the needs of customers.’

A tentative relaunch of the collapsed Virgin Mobile South Africa business by ‘rescue practitioners’ John Henning and Peter Thompson has floundered, the Daily Maverick reports, after MNO partner Cell C withdrew its support. If a cash injection cannot be secured, the company faces liquidation and a fire sale of its remaining assets. An anonymous employee told the publication: ‘Everyone is in limbo and not sure if we will get anything. The company is as good as dead.’

Finally, Tennessee-based SurgePays has revealed that its MVNO unit SurgePhone Wireless has witnessed higher-than-anticipated demand for its service since joining the government’s subsidised Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) programme. As of 30 November 2021, EBB enrolments have exceeded 19,000 with total revenue of over USD4.2 million since launching the programme in August 2021. These enrolments were generated primarily in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi. SurgePhone has also received approval to offer customers discounted services in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Texas. SurgePays CEO Brian Cox noted: ‘Having available capital from our recent up-list to the Nasdaq Capital Market will allow us to continue to accelerate enrolments nationwide and I expect to double our customer base in the next 60 days. We have revised our internal model from 5,000 monthly enrolments to 15,000 in January and 20,000 enrolments in February.’ The EBB programme provides SurgePhone with an up-to-USD90 reimbursement for the cost of each tablet distributed and a USD50 (per customer, per month) subsidy for data services.

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Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, (Surge Holdings) SurgePhone Wireless, Gamers Mobile, Lum Mobile, Lycamobile UK, Lycamobile USA, Plintron Russia, SaskTel, Tele2 Russia, Virgin Mobile (South Africa)