Wednesday, February 28, 2007

US MVNOs - what viable concepts remain?

The US MVNO market has passed through infancy. Some MVNOs are entering adolescence (Virgin, Boost) while others are just starting to walk on their own (Helio, Amp'd, Disney). Discount prepaid operators are beginning to see a shakeout (see this news item). Which all begs the question: are there any new MVNO types that still have life? I think there are two:

  1. The "store-brand" MVNO - if you are a large enough retailer, with a devoted clientele, and don't already stock other cellphones, a prepaid offering can be profitable. The prototype operator is Tesco Mobile in the UK.

  2. The cult MVNO - how do you lure customers away from the large mobile operators? One way is to have a powerful, long-lasting bond with a segment of customers. And tell them: "Buy cellphone service from us. It may cost a little more, you may have to give up a little service, but it's worth it to support the community." One very recent example is the launch of the Planned Parenthood MVNO.
Store-brand MVNOs will be larger, but fewer in number, since a limited number of retail channels will fulfill the criteria to host a successful MVNO. Cult MVNOs, by contrast, will serve smaller subscriber bases, but could be much more numerous.

And, of course, one significant question remains: will the operators want to enable them?

(Photo: the LG225 phone offered by Planned Parenthood Wireless)

, , , , ,