What are MVNOs?
Mobile Virtual Network Operators are telecom operators which do not own any telecom infrastructure and yet survive in the market based on their strategic alliances with current MNOs – Mobile Network Operators. MVNOs usually buy MOUs – Minutes of Use in bulk from traditional mobile operators for sale to their own customers.
The introduction of MVNOs in the market is a natural progression towards having a free market and contributing to the efficient use of telecom infrastructure. A mature market is expected to provide the customer with choice. It often becomes difficult for a large operator to service such diverse requirements effectively. Such varied requirements could get well addressed by niche operators catering to specific customer segments. These operators create a structure that differentiates between wholesale and retail operators.
Method of Service Delivery
MVNOs deliver their own SIM cards and are also responsible for branding, marketing, billing and customer care. Some MVNOs have their own infrastructure whereas some do not own infrastructure but are based on services provided by it such as:-
• Tariff and service design control or
• Only pre-packaged services.
• Service implementation and differentiation
Based on their infrastructure, MVNOs can be classified as Skinny MVNO, Thin MVNO and Thick MVNO.
Symbiotic relationship between MNOs and MVNOs
MVNOs cannot exist without MNOs.
MNOs also derive a lot of benefit from MVNOs, such as:
• MVNOs help in expanding the market size and penetration.
• MVNOs help MNOs target specific segments where they are weak and create a wider customer base. A larger market helps all the players concerned. MVNOs follow a Blue Ocean strategy of creating an uncontested market by reconstructing market boundaries.
• MVNOs help provide specific products and Value Added Services to customers. Eg. Disney provides cartoons and entertainment and ESPN helps provide sports information to its client base.
• MVNOs help MNOs in effective network and bandwidth utilization.
• MVNOs also help MNOs lower operational costs which accrue in the form of billing, sales, customer services, marketing budgets as they directly buy minutes from MNOs.
MVNOs and Blue Ocean strategies
The MVNO model is about providing differentiated services and hence rather than fight the battle, they create a whole new battlefield of their own choice. This is what Blue Ocean strategies are all about and so MVNOs are the best vehicles of experimentation for enterprising entrepreneurs.
The different ways in which MVNOs operate around the world are:
Business MVNOs like BeyondMobile and Abica provide bespoke services to businesses.
Discount MVNOs provide cut-price call rates to market segments.
Lifestyle MVNOs like Helio focus on specific niche market demographics.
Advertising-funded MVNOs like Blyk or MOSH Mobile build revenues from advertising to give a set amount of free voice, text and content to their subscribers.
Ethnic MVNOs like Lebara target ethnic communities by providing inexpensive calls to their home country.
Tesco, a UK based retailer, started an MVNO with O2 and An Post, Ireland’s postal service started one with Vodafone.
Future of MVNOs
A lot of the MVNOs mentioned haven’t worked and there have been some high profile failures, notably that of Disney and ESPN. But the business model of MVNOs is still a lucrative one and there are more and more players joining in the fray. More about MVNOs in India soon.