Apple’s MVNO – are operators being outflanked?

Written by on August 4, 2015 in Opinion with 0 Comments

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There are new reports of Apple planning an MVNO. Apple has been planning an MVNO for almost a decade. Apple has no plans to launch its MVNO immediately. The company is looking at a five-year launch window and are talking to European operators, as well as US carriers. This from a report on Business Insider that quotes ‘sources.’ The real source, Apple itself, was not immediately available for comment.

The report might be true. It might not be true. Apple filed its first patent for an MVNO in 2006. Although the company does not, by any means, turn all its patents into products, this has the feel of Apple and NFC. Industry observers (apart from us) said NFC would be in every iPhone that was launched. It was only when Apple had got its fingerprint and token technology tied down that NFC appeared as part of its wallet offering.

With its MVNO play, one piece of the puzzle that has started to fall into place recently is the Apple SIM (or soft SIM to be more exact). And one thing that has been in the plans from the beginning is that Apple wants customers to be able to seamlessly switch between networks. This will enhance the customer experience.

Leaving Apple’s MVNO rumours aside, it only adds to the bigger debate about networks. And operators.

Google has launched its MVNO – Project Fi. The USP is zero roaming charges and simple pricing.

Facebook is putting the finishing touches to a fleet of drones that, it says, will deliver the to far-flung places. So why not connectivity to near flung places too?

Google is testing balloons and has publicly said that they can keep a balloon in the sky for six months and deliver 4G and Wi-Fi to other far-flung places.

At the other end of the scale, companies such as Sigfox are rolling out networks that are specifically designed for the needs of the IoT.

The question is ‘where does that leave the operators?’ If we were gambling people at DisruptiveViews HQ, we would probably bet the way of Apple, Google, Facebook and (let’s not forget) Amazon. They have the compelling products. Operators have ‘data.’ Data is a commodity. Operators are ham-strung by regulations, duty of care, universal service obligations and vast and unnecessary fines from the Regulators. The Famous Four are not.

What is interesting is the reaction of operators. We were pondering this only the other day. Mr Legere, the executive who swopped his AT&T suit for a baseball cap and a tee-shirt that makes him look like Iggy Pop, was upbeat at his latest earnings call. Better than expected earnings, stock up over five percent and over two million new subscribers in the second quarter. The results certainly pleased ‘the Street’ but it is odd that he seems to be in ‘land grab’ mode.

While others are quietly considering how to add value, how to better look after customers, he is going for numbers. Given his statement that  ‘companies like Google and Comcast are going to enter the wireless market in the next few years, and T-Mobile is open to partnering or allying with them,’ you have to wonder.

As we said, it sounds a bit like a small boy dressing up in cool clothes so that the real cool kids will be his friend and let him hang out. His biggest fear is that the real cool kid doesn’t want to be his friend and throws him out of the sand pit.

It is a sad thing to say, but it is increasingly looking as if network operators are being outflanked. Some will, of course, succeed in the consumer space. Others will not. For many it may be time to dust off Plan B. Become the best quality, low-cost network in the room. That way Apple, Google and whoever else comes along will want to be a friend. And there is a lot of money in that kind of friend(ship).

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


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