Meteor to host MVNOs

22 Jul 2003

Third mobile network provider Meteor has confirmed to that it is ready and willing to host one or more mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) on its network.

However, despite receiving a number of expressions of interest from wannabe MVNOs – local and international – the company said that it has yet to see a business proposal it is happy with, and will wait until a suitable offer is made.

A MVNO is a service provider that provides mobile voice and data services on the back of another mobile company’s network.

Meteor’s communications director Andrew Kelly confirmed: “We are looking at it, we have the capability and we are open to making the network available to a MVNO. Theoretically, we have the capacity to host more than one. Obviously, this would depend on finding the right partner.

“We have received a number of proposals but so far have not been impressed. We have been approached but no proposal has led to the creation of a new MVNO. That said, in the likelihood of there being a MVNO being created in the Irish market, it will be on our network,” Kelly said.

Eyes are also on Hutchison Whampoa, the owner of the third 3G licence, to host MVNOs. The company has recently signed a €100m agreement with Esat BT to build the initial phases of its 3G network in Ireland, adding to speculation that Esat BT is also fostering ambitions to enter the Irish mobile market.

With Eircom’s non-compete moratorium on the mobile market due to end next year, there has been speculation that the company might either buy Meteor outright or may become a MVNO on the company’s network. However, Kelly has denied that Eircom has approached the company either with an acquisition proposition or a MVNO proposal.

At present something of a MVNO revolution is sweeping Europe, with operators such as Tesco and Virgin Mobile signing up millions of subscribers by offering competitive voice and text options. Virgin Mobile, for example, has signed up more than 2.64 million subscribers for competitive voice calls and 3p text messages.

However, the MVNO market is not without its own share of dangers for firms taking the plunge. Virgin Mobile is already in legal hot water because of its unprecedented success, raising the ire of host mobile network owner T-Mobile after boosting its market share by 54pc on the back of slashed call and text costs.

Ireland witnessed a similar scenario three years ago, when the country’s first MVNO Cellular3, after acquiring bulk airtime from Eircell (now Vodafone) quickly amassed 20,000 customers, angering the network owner in the process. Legal proceedings ensued, and the High Court ruled that despite having 64pc market share, Eircell was not a dominant market player and was right to protect its customer base. Cellular3 was forced to close.

At a recent Wireless Wednesday event a number of industry observers confirmed that Ireland, with number portability due to go live this Friday, is ripe for one or more MVNOs to ply their trade. In addition, Eircom is hungrily eying its return to the mobile market after an enforced three-year moratorium, with plans to offer services from May next year. The majority of the speakers at the event agreed that Meteor, rather than O2 or Vodafone, was most likely to host MVNO services due to its state-of-the-art network, which is currently only used by 4pc of the market, leaving the company plenty of capacity to host one or more virtual operators.

By John Kennedy