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

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24 Oct 2022

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has issued decisions on the terms and conditions for MVNO access to the networks of national infrastructure-based mobile operators Rogers, Bell and Telus, and Saskatchewan provincial operator SaskTel, who must now begin accepting requests for access to their networks and enter negotiations with regional mobile providers to agree on wholesale MVNO rates. The CRTC says its latest initiatives will:

• open the door for more companies, in particular smaller regional providers in rural areas, to provide greater competition and choice to more Canadians

• ensure that MVNO access is offered on current and future mobile networks, including 5G, ‘denying several provisions that would make the MVNO access service more restrictive or difficult to use’

• prevent any provisions that would restrict regional providers from reselling their wholesale access to other MVNOs.

Mexican media conglomerate Grupo Televisa launched its new Blue Celular-branded MVNO over the AT&T Mexico network last week, Sky Mexico chief executive Luis Malvido told local journalists. As per the press briefing, the mobile service is only available to existing Sky pay-TV subscribers, who will be able to gain access to upgraded content if they take up a mobile subscription. Mr Malvido has previously stated that he believes the MVNO will boost Sky’s revenue by 3% to 5% in the coming years. TeleGeography notes that Televisa already offers MVNO connectivity under the Izzi Mobile brand and Blue Telecomm brands, although the latter originated as a purely fixed wireless proposition.

Over in Argentina, Camara de Cooperativas de Telecomunicaciones (Catel) – the parent company of Argentinean MVNO imowi – has reportedly agreed terms with a further two regional telecoms cooperatives. According to TeleSemana, the co-ops in question are San Miguel del Monte-based Cooperativa Electrica de Monte and Cooperativa de TelViso, although the latter deal will not be formalised until next month. Going forward, the MVNO is also eyeing tie-ups with provincial state-owned companies known as Sociedad Anonima con Participacion Estatal Mayoritaria (SAPEM). In August this year, Catel signed agreements with Pinamar-based Telpin and Chaco-based ECOM. imowi, which launched Full MVNO services over the Movistar network in January this year, ultimately intends to serve multiple regional telecoms cooperatives across Argentina.

Germany’s Federal Network Agency (FNA, known locally as the Bundesnetzagentur) has set deadlines for MVNO-turned-MNO 1&1 Mobilfunk to end its dual role as a service provider (i.e. MVNO) and network operator. The company is required to end its sales operations as a service provider by the end of 2023 and all its business activities as a service provider by the end of 2025. 1&1, which has been a long-term presence in the MVNO market, acquired spectrum in the 2100MHz and 3.5GHz bands in 2019, and is on course to launch 5G services before end-2022. The watchdog explains: ‘In principle, it is not possible for a mobile network operator to also act as a service provider for another network operator. 1&1 Mobilfunk was allowed to have a dual role for a temporary period following the spectrum auction in 2019. The company has now been set deadlines to give up this dual role.’

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that its Enforcement Bureau has reached a settlement with Truphone to resolve the Commission’s Notice of Apparent Liability issued against the MVNO earlier this year for ‘failing to disclose accurate ownership stakes held by foreign entities and transferring control of FCC licences and international section 214 authorisation without Commission approval to do so’. In addition to admitting the violations, the company will pay a civil penalty of USD600,000 and enter into a robust compliance plan. The agreement requires any stake in Truphone held by Alexander Abramov, Alexander Frolov, or Roman Abramovich to be divested. (Note: While Truphone is an MVNO, FCC documentation notes that it indirectly holds a PCS licence in Butte, Montana, via iSmart Mobile, which is a subsidiary of SmartCall. Because the company is in possession of a common carrier radio licence, the watchdog has been able to hit it with a substantial fine.)

Finally, sticking with the US, Verizon Communications has introduced a new Straight Talk Home Internet fixed wireless service via the Straight Talk unit it inherited through its takeover of TracFone Wireless. The new service utilises the Verizon Wireless 4G and 5G networks for connectivity and is available exclusively from nearly 2,000 Walmart stores.

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