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

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26 Sep 2022

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has extended its deadline for MVNO applications until 11 October 2022, as it seeks to authorise the country’s first virtual operators. The NCC has outlined five different MVNO classification tiers, namely: Tier 1: Virtual Operator; Tier 2: Simple Facilities Operator; Tier 3: Core Facilities Operator; Tier 4: Virtual Aggregator/ Enabler; and Tier 5: Unified Virtual Operator. Tier 1-4 applicants are expected to pay 5% of the license fee as a non- refundable administrative charge, while Tier 5 licensees are expected to pay a NGN50 million (USD115,996) non-refundable fee prior to embarking upon negotiations with MNOs. The watchdog notes: ‘For the purpose of clarity, negotiations with host mobile network operators commence immediately after the grant of the licence.’

Over in the US, Nova Labs (formerly Helium), which is in the process of overseeing the deployment of a decentralised mobile network, has executed ‘an exclusive multi-year agreement’ with T-Mobile US to support the launch of its Helium Mobile MVNO, which it describes as ‘the world’s first crypto-powered mobile service’. Helium Mobile subscribers can opt-in to earn ‘MOBILE’ token rewards for sharing data about coverage quality and helping identify Helium dead spot locations nationwide. While Helium Mobile is keen to pursue a bring your own device (BYOD) model, Nova Labs says it is partnering with select cell phone manufacturers on specialised, crypto-friendly cell phone devices. Commercial beta services are expected to launch in Q1 2023 with nationwide 5G coverage.

Also in the US, Verizon Wireless has relaunched the Total Wireless sub-brand it inherited via its 2021 takeover of TracFone Wireless as Total by Verizon. It remains to be seen whether any other legacy TracFone brands will be folded into the new offering. Other sub-brands include: TracFone, NET10, Straight Talk, Simple Mobile, Page Plus Cellular and Walmart Family Mobile. In addition, the SafeLink brand is part of the government subsidised Lifeline programme.

Elsewhere, Berlin-based start-up Gigs has secured the backing of big-name investors including Google’s early-stage venture capital arm Gradient Ventures and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Gigs has received USD4 million in funding (via a convertible loan) prior to a USD20 million Series A funding round. The Gigs website explains: ‘Gigs is the embeddable, API-first operator that lets you sell phone and data plans to your customers without the hassle of setting up your own MVNO in every market … Create custom plans that fit the needs of your use case, on the networks of your choice. Use our market tested plans and pricing, or build pools for all your devices to share.’

Thailand’s The White Space Co (Penguin SIM) is poised to abandon its MVNO business as it seeks to preserve its long-term revenue streams. Chairman Chaiyod Chirabowornkul told the Bangkok Post that the company will pivot towards the private enterprise sector, with a view to working alongside used car dealers and debt collection services. The MVNO’s wholesale contract with National Telecom runs until 2025, but Penguin SIM serves just 40,000 subscriptions the official added.

Cybersecurity firm World Health Energy Holdings (WHEN Group) has announced that its Polish subsidiary, Cross Mobile, has signed a GSM contract with Polkomtel. The MVNO is expected to launch in December 2022. WHEN Group CEO Giora Rozensweig commented: ‘We are now part of a small, rarefied group of licensed operators in the EU, giving us a formidable foundation from which we believe can generate significant long-term revenue growth by launching our comprehensive suite of value-added services for B2B and B2C customers.’

Sticking with Poland, Wrocław-based ISP Korbank has also signed an MVNO contract with Polkomtel. The MVNO service will also be made available to other companies that use Korbank’s IPTV platform. Company official Grzegorz Janikowski told Telko.in: ‘The biggest financial barrier in the project was the integration of the mobile operator’s billing system with ours.’ Testing is now underway, however, and the service is said to be ‘practically ready’. Negotiations with Orange Poland are ongoing, meanwhile, as Korbank seeks to add a second partner to support its MVNO proposition.

Finally, Plintron Americas has expanded its decade-long strategic relationship with T-Mobile US via an updated agreement enabling Plintron to expand its opportunities as a T-Mobile MVNO aggregator.

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