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

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17 Oct 2022

US satellite giant-turned-mobile operator DISH Network is considering the sale of its Boost Mobile MVNO unit. According to Fierce Wireless, CONX Corp – a special purpose acquisition group (SPAC) founded by Boost chairman Charlie Ergen and Jason Kiser two years ago – is in the midst of takeover discussions. The proposed deal was mentioned in a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing submitted by CONX earlier this week. SPACs – which are informally referred to as ‘blank-check companies’ within the financial industry – are shell corporations listed on a stock exchange with the purpose of acquiring a private company, thus making it public without going through the traditional initial public offering (IPO) process. On 1 July 2020 DISH paid USD1.4 billion for Boost Mobile, as part of a list of Department of Justice (DoJ) antitrust measures designed to push through the takeover of Sprint by T-Mobile US. DISH went on to acquire a number of other MVNOs including Ting Mobile, Republic Wireless and Gen Mobile.

Sticking with the US, the National Wireless Independent Dealer Association (NWIDA) has reported that Verizon is planning to ditch a number of the sub-brands inherited via its 2021 takeover of TracFone Wireless. Effective 1 November new customers can no longer be signed up for plans by Page Plus Cellular, NET10 or GoSmart Mobile, although existing customers can continue to buy top-ups. New users will be directed towards the Simple Mobile and TracFone brands. The correspondence quoted on the NWIDA website describes the move as ‘a unique opportunity to streamline our core offerings that align with dealer feedback’. The development follows the recent rebranding/relaunch of Total Wireless as Total by Verizon. Unaffected brands include Straight Talk, Walmart Family Mobile and SafeLink.

Tesco Mobile, the UK’s largest MVNO in terms of subscriptions, has highlighted a return to customer and sales growth, reversing its lockdown-related slump. As per the operator’s latest Companies House filing (covering the year ended 31 December 2021), the MVNO ended 2021 with 5.19 million subscriptions, up from 5.14 million at end-2020. Of the most recent figure, 3.55 million were post-paid (2020: 3.36 million). Revenues increased 6.8% year-on-year, to GBP885.997 million (USD992.246 million).

Also in the UK, Brighton-based FlexiFone is poised to become the next MVNO to enter the sector. The MVNO has wholesale agreements in place with EE, Three UK and O2 and is a wholly digital proposition which utilises eSIM connectivity. The newcomer will target the ‘Generation Z’ demographic and offer 50% discounts on various popular apps. Founder Sarthak Sethi told Total Telecom: ‘FlexiFone started as a concept which was brainstormed during an assignment at the University of Sussex, and fast-forward a lot of hustling, we are now at the pilot-test stage. We’re currently bootstrapped [funded without outside investment] and would be raising funds before our grand public launch in Q1 of 2023.’

Over in Spain, the latest MVNO to go live is not-for-profit player TRES Telecom. Befitting its name, the newcomer offers connectivity via three unnamed wholesale partners. Users are asked to pay a EUR3 (USD2.92) ‘associate fee’ and can expect to receive their SIM card within three days. In addition, TRES offers fibre-optic broadband access at speeds of up to 333Mbps. The new company is based in Castelldefels, a small town on the Mediterranean coast.

Finally, also in Spain, Telefonica Espana has announced that the migration of users from its Tuenti sub-brand to sister company O2 has concluded, with 90% of subscriptions taking up the offer. The shutdown of Tuenti was initiated in April this year and was initially expected to conclude by June. Tuenti originated as a social network in April 2006 and was acquired by Telefonica in August 2010 before launching as a mobile sub-brand in February 2012.

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