My recent trip to London to attend the MVNOs Networking Congress 2016 was nothing short of rewarding.
The streamlined European focus offered a counterpoint to my experiences at previous World Congress events in Nice and Amsterdam. The conference had a strong British MVNO influence, featuring contributions from leading industry figures including: Chris Tooley, CEO of Lycamobile Group; Paul O’Sullivan, Head of Wholesale Commercial, Telefonica UK; Alison Esposti, Head of Commercial Strategy, GiffGaff; and Nick Wooten, Head of MVNO Segments and MVNO Sales, BT Wholesale.
I was delighted to join a panel of experts to moderate the discussion: How Are European MVNOs Taking Advantage of 4G and How Will They Take Advantage of 5G?
All three MVNOs on the panel were at very different stages in their adoption of 4G, making for a useful contrast.
EI Telecom has wholesale agreements with three French MNOs.
TalkTalk terminated its long-term agreement with Vodafone network over its lack of 4G access, and is in the process of migrating to the O2 network.
Meanwhile, Virgin Poland is not currently permitted to offer 4G access – 40% of its smartphone users don’t even use data - only voice and SMS.
MVNO access to 4G in the UK has been driven by the willingness of MNOs to negotiate wholesale terms.
According to Beth Wainwright of TalkTalk, “MVNO access to 4G in the UK has been driven by the willingness of MNOs to negotiate wholesale terms rather than spectrum holdings or network capacity. Consumers no longer see 4G data capacity as a luxury – they expect it to be included in bundles as standard.”
However, EI Telecom’s experience in France differed markedly with Franz Delpont noting, “[French regulator] ARCEP did a good job of protecting competition by including an MVNO hosting obligation in the 4G licences. We consider ourselves as a direct competitor to the four French mobile network operators, so we did not want to make any compromises on our technology offer.”
With a number of international heavyweights throwing down the 5G gauntlet in recent months – stating plans to work toward commercial 5G launches by 2020 – the shift toward the fifth generation of mobile technology has become a hot topic across the industry. The MVNO sector is no exception.
“5G is a bit of a magic word, which can refer to several norms. We are always excited to offer better access to our customers; if 5G is available in France in 2020, we will make sure to offer it to our customers,” Delpont said. “We can leverage our strong bargaining power arising from our unique positioning as a triple-sourced Full MVNO. We are organised in a way that we can efficiently address the kind of niche markets that could emerge with 5G.”
Given the issues experienced in the UK, TalkTalk is likely to adopt a more cautious stance.
“5G will bring innovation in networks and services and support new business models,” said Wainwright. “We need to learn lessons from 4G to ensure a healthy, competitive market develops and the full benefits are realised.”
5G will bring innovation in networks and services and support new business models. We need to learn lessons from 4G to ensure a healthy, competitive market develops and the full benefits are realised.
When addressing the biggest challenges in terms of making 5G truly ubiquitous for MNOs and MVNOs alike, Delpont commented that investments in 5G will depend on the maturity of the underlying business models and on real demand to serve. “4G had at least one big driver for MNOs - it allowed them to lower their OPEX by simplifying their network architecture,” he said. “There can be no such promises with 5G; the networks won’t get more efficient. The main driver seems to be gaining a competitive advantage technology-wise, but it could end up a zero sum game.”
The panel How Are European MVNOs Taking Advantage of 4G and How Will They Take Advantage of 5G? included: Franz Delpont, Strategy Analyst, Euro-Information Telecom – France; Beth Wainwright Mobile Regulation Manager, TalkTalk – UK; and Grazyna Piotrowska-Oliwa CEO, Virgin Mobile Polska – Poland.
Tom Leins is a lead Analyst for TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database. He also contributes to the company’s daily CommsUpdate newsletter, which includes his popular weekly 'MVNO Monday' round-up. Tom has developed a strong specialisation in the US, as well as Latin America and other developing markets, tracking regulatory developments, market opportunities, growth trends and market forecasts.