4G offers new opportunities for MVNOs

Carrier Pawsey/Ovum
30 Aug 2013

Like many telecom trends, the MVNO business model has gone in and out of fashion in the last decade. The early explosion of MVNOs across developed markets has somewhat subsided, with many MVNOs having a relatively short lifecycle of approximately three years.

After this, they either go out of business because someone else has a cheaper “me too” offer or they are bought by the host network provider. Very few MVNOs manage to achieve scale and longevity.

While 4G is the latest MVNO opportunity, there is still doubt as to whether the new technology can truly change the telecom landscape or if it will just provide another wave on which to ride.

The US is leading the way for 4G MVNOs

The US telecom market has had some high-profile MVNO failures, including ESPN MVP, Disney Mobile, and Amp’d Mobile. All of them promised to offer more than just voice services, and a lot of resources were invested in them before they were even launched.

As a result of these failures, MVNO became a dirty word in the US that was not to be spoken if you wanted to get financial backing. That’s not to say that MVNOs didn’t exist, but the concept was a much harder proposition to sell to financial backers. As a result of this history, it is interesting to see that the US is now leading the way in terms of 4G MVNOs.

Sprint is currently the most aggressive LTE wholesaler in the world. This will come as no surprise to anyone who tracks MVNOs as Sprint has always driven the wholesale market in the US. In fact, it was Sprint’s success in generating wholesale revenues that led its competitors to take MVNOs on board in the first place.

To date, Sprint has more than 10 MVNOs on its network that offer 4G services to their customers. From the launch of its LTE network, Sprint has offered the technology as part of its wholesale proposition, deciding not to reserve it for its own customers as other operators have done.

While the other US operators have been slower to make LTE available at a wholesale level (although AT&T is now allowing its sub-brand, AIO Wireless, to sell LTE services), we expect this to change in the near future.

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