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

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17 Apr 2023

South Africa has a new MVNO called Melon Mobile, which went live on 13 April. The new player, which is backed by tech entrepreneur Calvin Collett, piggybacks on the MTN South Africa network. Melon’s website pitches the MVNO as follows: ‘We noticed that our friends and family were getting the rind side of the melon for way to long and decided to change things up a little. We’re a mix of tech experts, entrepreneurs and creatives who looked at the way mobile was and then found a better way to do it. We decided to keep things simple, let you control your mobile needs and make everything a little more digital.’

Over in the US, the National Content & Technology Cooperative (NCTC) has announced that it has entered into an agreement with AT&T Communications to serve as the exclusive mobile carrier for all member MVNO offerings. The NCTC represents almost 700 independent ISPs who collectively connect approximately one-third of all North American households to the internet. The NCTC says that its white-labelled mobile service is fully customisable, based on timeline and budget, and includes modules for billing, service provisioning, customer self-service, agent interfaces and more. NCTC CEO Lou Borrelli told Fierce Wireless that an initial batch of nearly 50 NCTC members are set to launch mobile services via the MVNO deal on 1 June 2023, noting that these were the companies NCTC worked with for validation and as a sounding board as it went through the negotiation process. A secondary group of between 60 and 80 members have also expressed interest in launching MVNOs, he added, but it is too early to tell whether or not they will follow through.

Vancouver-based MVNO PhoneBox, which primarily targets international visitors to Canada, has launched a US MVNO over the T-Mobile US network. The newcomer went live on 3 April 2023. Jonas Kahon, Director of Partnerships at PhoneBox, commented: ‘Our aim is to be intuitive, to listen to our customers, and to offer mobile phone service that will make life easier and the arrival in a new country as hassle-free as possible.’ PhoneBox currently serves about 55,000 active subscriptions in Canada.

US-based Soriano Group has announced that it has acquired an unspecified stake in Gianluca Vacchi’s Elite Mobile (elimobile) MVNO in Italy. Soriano Group says it has the option to acquire the virtual operator’s entire shareholding ‘in successive phases’. Marco Antonio Soriano IV, chairman of the board of directors at the Soriano Group, commented: ‘This partnership will allow us to provide our customers with access to exclusive content and services that they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. We look forward to a long and successful partnership with Elite Mobile as we expand our footprint globally.’ elimobile launched in May 2022 over the WINDTRE network.

Liiv M, the MVNO operated by KB Kookmin Bank has obtained government approval to continue its mobile business in South Korea. According to the Korea Times, the Financial Services Commission (FSC) has said it will revise the related laws as soon as KB Kookmin Bank registers its business as a financial-communication convergence service. The MVNO was launched as a temporary project, as per the guidelines of the ‘Financial Regulation Sandbox’. As such, it was scheduled to shut down after four years (in April 2023) or seek special dispensation from the watchdog. Under the current law, banks can only operate in other sectors as a side-line. The MVNO launched over the LG Uplus network in 2019, before adding connectivity from KT Corp and SK Telecom in 2H22. Liiv M had signed up more than 420,000 MVNO subscriptions as of 31 March this year.

US-based IoT firm KORE Wireless has activated a new Brazilian MVNO service. According to TeleSintese, the launch has been enabled by B2B MVNO/MVNE Next Level Telecom (NLT), which has wholesale agreements with Telefonica Brasil (Vivo) and American Tower do Brasil. NLT offers Full MVNO services over the Vivo network and utilises American Tower’s infrastructure for LoRaWAN connectivity. According to the National Telecommunications Agency (Agencia Nacional de Telecomunicacoes, Anatel), NLT accounted for 570,267 M2M subscriptions as of December 2022.

Elsewhere, Anatel has decided that TIM Brasil, Vivo and Claro Brasil – the three companies that carved up Oi’s mobile assets – will not be allowed to charge additional monthly fees for IoT/M2M devices in their MVNO wholesale reference offers for a period of five years.

Brazil’s Administrative Council for Economic Defence (Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Economica, CADE) has approved without restriction an increase in the share capital of B2B ISP/MVNO AmericaNet by 99.9%-owner Warburg Pincus. To facilitate the investment, the company will issues new shares to FIP WP and Invest Special, which are owned by Warburg Pincus. The US private equity firm acquired an initial controlling stake in AmericaNet from Axxon for USD100 million in 2019.

Sticking with Brazil, Use Telecom, which offers fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity in 33 municipalities using its own network and a further 88 municipalities via the FiBrasil network, has indicated that its MVNO business now serves around 10,000 subscriptions. In 2H23 the ISP intends to encourage its users to mine cryptocurrencies to reduce their fixed broadband bills.

Finally, Thailand has welcomed a new MVNO called K4 Communication Co.. The newcomer piggybacks on the National Telecom (NT) network.

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