As previously reported by the MVNOs Series, it’s been an exciting year for MVNOs in North America. One of the most mature and developed MVNO markets in the world, the region does justice for its reputation of being intensely competitive yet still filled with opportunity. If we look at the US market for example – one of the most diverse, complex and competitive MVNO markets within the region – it has been the home to some of the biggest stories around the North American mobile industry in 2018: the big four carriers’ merger and acquisition announcements.
With only a few weeks until the MVNOs Series takes over Miami with the MVNOs North America 2018, they caught up with David Glickman, CEO of Ultra Mobile, and Sarah Neill, VP and General Manager at Ultra IoT Connected Lab, on the latest developments in the region.
What are your views on the T-Mobile and Sprint merger? Is it a really merger or an acquisition, and will their MVNOs merge too? What the greater market consolidation means for MVNOs in North America?
[David Glickman] It’s technically a merger, but it looks and feels a lot like an acquisition. MVNO’s won’t merge in a direct sense, but the New MNO may decide not to maintain so many relationships, and if they end some contracts, those MVNO’s will need to partner with AT&T or Verizon which is tough, or their customers are going to have to find a new home, which is likely one of the existing MVNO’s. It’s an important year for MVNO’s to show their value and earn their place at the new table.
What are your thoughts on the Lifeline programme? Should MVNOs be responsible for this kind of service instead?
[DG] Lifeline requires a carrier to provide an adequate service to a less profitable segment of the market. To be able to do this, it goes beyond government subsidy and also relies on an affordable business model and aligned resources and priorities. This is always harder for MNO’s who are motivated to look first at the most profitable customers, and this has historically been one of the opportunities that MVNO’s have seized. So, in this same way I think it makes a lot of sense for MVNO’s who can operate on lower overheads and hold a niche strategy and therefore aligned prioritizations to take the lead on this market.
As we look at the North American price discrepancies – more for more or more for less? What works best? How should MVNOs approach this kind of strategy?
[DG] If MVNOs focus on more for more, they start to compete directly with the “hand that feeds them”. An MVNO is rarely going to beat an MNO that is motivated to compete directly. So, I don’t believe an MVNO would ever want to go head to head with an MVNO. The more for more strategy only works for the top of the market that are willing to pay more for more. In this competitive market, there’s an oversupply of service, and a growing base of customers that are willing to get less for less, which initially drove the growing acceptance and popularity of MVNO’s, but now as the MVNO’s continue to improve their own services, off their initial lower base, these customers are getting more for less. It’s still targeting the lower end of the market, which still carves out a divide between the target between MNO’s and MVNO’.
How can MVNOs in North America differentiate themselves? What makes MVNOs different in a sea of voice, SMS and data offerings?
[DG] Domestic voice and text has to be unlimited. It’s so commoditized that it’s no longer just a part of the product mix, it is the base. That leaves the differentiators to be:
- to a diminishing extend, international voice,
- increasingly value-added services like streaming services, free or exclusive content, and
MVNOs have started to look at the opportunities in IoT, video distribution, hospitality, education etc. Can you please share what do you consider the opportunities for MVNOs in these sectors? Most importantly, how should MVNOs approach these opportunities? For IoT, for example, should they specialise in one vertical?
[Sarah Neill] 10% of IoT devices will use cellular connectivity, so this is big volume. And with the roll out of 5G, demands on IoT support and connectivity will propel. We are focused on becoming the Ultra-fast implementer for innovative IoT companies. We want to work with companies that are committed to moving from contact to implementation in 30 days. We believe scale, speed, and ease are going to be critical to be a valuable MVNO in the IoT space. And it’s our huge advantage over MNO’s, we don’t need volume commitments, or business plans, we just want companies that are looking to launch quickly. At Ultra Mobile one of our key strengths is agility, execution and speed to market, so we want to take what we do ourselves to partners and open up this B2B pipeline for likeminded business operators.