The digital telco: Circle.Life's value proposition for consumers

Melissa Chua

Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) usually find success by catering to niches in the various markets they operate in. 

A 2016 report from Analysys Mason that assesses prospects for MVNOS in emerging Asia Pacific countries found that traditional niche segments for MVNOs tend to be immigrants, young people or customers of a particular income level. Successful MVNOs often specialize in segments that mobile network operators do not, or cannot address. On the other hand, MVNOs will struggle when actively targeting the same segments served by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). MVNO success also often depends on whether MNOs view MVNOs as an opportunity or threat.

Disruption in Singapore
On the surface, Singapore’s saturated mobile market might deem the island republic as one with an unsuitable climate for MVNO success. History backs this claim – in 2001, MVNO operator Virgin Mobile exited the Singapore market just one year after its launch, citing difficulties with operating in a saturated market. Singapore’s three incumbent MNOs, Singtel, StarHub and M1 also offer both pre and postpaid plans catering to different segments of the population, posing challenges for an MVNO seeking to target unserved or underserved segments.

The telecom industry, however, has changed since 2001, alongside evolving consumer needs. And new MVNO Circles.Life, which leases bandwidth from M1 and prides itself as being a fully digital telecommunications provider, believes there is room in the Singapore market for a mobile operator catering to digitally savvy consumers who value flexibility.

The MVNO does not operate any physical distribution channels. Instead, its retail business is based wholly online, with couriers delivering SIM cards and mobile phones purchased on the telco’s website to customers. Circles.Life’s targets consumers who are intensive users of mobile data, and the company has plans to conquer 4 – 6% of the Singapore market within the next few years.

Four major trends have contributed to the disruption of the traditional telecom industry, says CEO of Circles.Life Abishek Gupta. These trends are the plummeting costs of data due to infrastructure changes, increasing user demand for well-functioning digital products such as user experience design and service quality, the increasing penetration of OTT apps and the digitization of core telco technologies.

According to Gupta, Circles.Life was started due in part to its founders’ frustration with the status quo and the slow pace at which the incumbents were changing. 

“We have seen many technological changes happen in the last 10 to 15 years, but they were not being reflected in the ways telcos work,” says Gupta. “In this age, it’s the digital companies like Netflix, Grab and Airbnb that win the battle for consumer mindshare and eventually their wallets.

“That virtualization in service, infrastructure and organizational DNA that you see with the likes of Grab or Gojek are lacking in telcos in Asia.”

Gupta claims Circles.Life’s digital platform has enhanced customer satisfaction because it offers customers the power to control their mobile plan.
Growth opportunities
 It is pertinent that telcos identify outlets for growth as customers continue to consume more data and monthly bills remain static, says Gupta, adding growth opportunities such as 5G, IoT and cross-industry partnerships such as mobile payments could be added to enhance the telecom portfolio.

“Telcos in Singapore are becoming more aggressive with their data and price offerings,” says Gupta. “But at the end of the day, the one who will win is the one who is able to deliver the best value.” 


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