20061110

MVNO commodities

In France, mass distribution eventually makes it into the MVNO arena* : after Auchan Mobile (by Auchan Telecom - auchantelecom.fr) on SFR, Carrefour Mobile (carrefourmobile.fr) picked up Orange.
If Auchan's Hyperlibre prepaid cards claim a fun and content factor, Carrefour delivers a much cheaper message : mobility metaphorically lies on the same shelves as eggs, mineral water or pasta, the equivalent of commodities in foods, basic products for which the World's #2 retailer holds an impressive market share.
Not as impressive as that of #1 Wal-Mart if it were to purchase Carrefour... but right now, WM has its own fishes to fry in the US (Movida - only 100,000 subs to date and 500,000 expected by the end of 2007) or in Germany, where even hard discounter Aldi* struggles.

A retail and / or financial know-how definitely makes sense for tomorrow's MVNOood (and Rabobank is considering its home market in the Netherlands), but it takes more to succeed than a strong brand or an expertise, be it in content (look at Disney struggle in the US and postpone its launch in the UK). A MVNO is a service provider and service should remain the major, even with a discount / content / mcommerce / mwhatever flavor. Pure players can succeed provided they can - well - provide and deliver the goods (ie TracFone - tracfone.com).
Consider Mobile ESPN's failure in the US : ESPN is a beautiful brand but only a one channel brand. Like TF1 Mobile, you like to have it on your mobile but you want all other channels as well. Quad players stand a better chance : Qwest Wireless makes a living, but US cablecos have yet to really enter the race (Comcast with T-Mobile again ?). In the UK, the NTL - Telewest - Virgin / NTV combo should deliver because Virgin being Virgin, Virgin Mobile refreshes the parts other MVNOs cannot reach.

Niche MVNOs keep blooming and ethnic MVNOs flourishing : MobiSud** targets Europe's Moroccan community, Ay Yildiz (ayyildiz.de) the Turkish diaspora and Red Pocket Mobile delivers 24/7 Mandarin and Cantonese service in the US. Others prefer to focus on the "international calls" dimension of the service across minorities, like Oblio Telecom's Bravo Cellular in the US or Ortel Mobile in Belgium (ortelmobile.be).
In a Marketing 101 frenzy, Firefly Mobile (fireflymobile.com) targets mobile kids, Xero Mobile (xeromobile.net) college teens***, Jitterbug by Greatcall (gojitterbug.com) seniors and technophobic Baby Boomers, and as the name suggests, GAYmobile (gaymobile.dk) doesn't target homophobes. No one dares launching a truly green mobile service but you can still subscribe to a feel-good provider : Call4care (call4care.nl), which federates all major NGOs including the Red Cross.
Yet, youth-oriented MVNOs remain the main variety.
And a demanding job. Ask Helio, which reached the audience it wanted, but not the kind of wallets it expected. The younger generations love the handsets but SKT and EarthLink would rather have them actually purchase the damn gizmos.
Amp'd Mobile isn't playing in the big leagues either with its 50,000 customers, even going on 150,000 by the end of the year. Yet, it goes international : Canada with TELUS (now a major shareholder) and Japan on KDDI (TTM march 2007). I don't think Amp'd impressive slugging average (a $100 ARPU) will remain that high when the saint subscribers go marchin' in, but Let's see if TELUS can be as efficient as Sprint Nextel with Boost Mobile (boostmobile.com).
To be continu'd.


* Virgin, FNAC or Darty happen to be retailers, but with a strong flavor / major.
*
see "CAPEX and the city - curb your enthousiasm or six feet under" (20051205)
** see "
MSN, Mobile Centric, Mobisud" (20061019)
*** if they really want to launch next January, they must first target deep pocketed and short sighted investors



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