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Rising Stars: MVNOs Set to Shine

By: Scott St. John

Who wouldn’t want to be a mobile operator?  Fierce competition, saturated markets, eroding margins, and astronomical network management costs – what’s not to love?  But for companies still longing to get in the mobile game, there may be a better way, and no better time than now.

Top-tier mobile network operators (MNOs) have been rolling out the red carpet with comprehensive wholesale offerings to ease the launch of MVNOs, or mobile virtual network operators. Sprint, which has been aggressively enabling MVNOs in the US market, announced its Single Source Enablement package last July, proclaiming it “lets anyone from entrepreneurs to enterprises deliver their own branded wireless service with as much or as little investment as they prefer.”

Three months later the company announced it had expanded its offering to include a pay-per-use data solution in an attempt to further spread the allure of becoming an MVNO to the retail, transportation and hospitality industries. Sprint’s press release stated, “This new turnkey product does not require the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) to have previous wireless experience or wireless support systems to launch this service.”

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all have MVNO offerings in the US with varying levels of complexity and benefits. But the appeal of needing little start-up capital, having no network to maintain, and requiring no experience or support systems, all while retaining up to 80 percent of monthly billing, has perked up more than just a few ears.

A report from Wireless Intelligence last May noted that there are over 800 MVNOs worldwide, not counting MNO sub-brands, and their numbers are growing. It indicated that nearly two-thirds of MVNOs are in Europe; the Asia-Pacific region is second, while North America is a distant third. The report also cited regulatory issues restricting growth in regions like the Middle East and Latin America, although in recent months there have been signs of progress.

In a web-based seminar given last November by telco consultants CSMG, vice president Mike Greening stated that the MVNO opportunity is beginning to open up in the Middle East, with headway being made most prominently by Oman, which had nearly 10 percent MVNO market penetration at the time of his presentation. Greening also pointed out that although the market is still in its relative infancy in Africa, he’s seen a great deal of movement there: the majority of activity is taking place in the south, but regulatory easing in northern Africa is potentially setting the stage for additional opportunities.

New, formerly closed markets burgeoning with potential MVNO opportunities are also coming online at an increased rate. In early January, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) presented a draft proposal that would let MVNOs compete with state-owned mobile operators. Once finalized, this opportunity would single-handedly open the door for private companies to a market of over a billion potential customers.



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