MVNO frenzy and extreme hangovers

Sprint welcomes another MVNO, and the utterly bankable KDDI Mobile brand has a crystal clear ambition : selling more Kyoceras in the US.
Meanwhile and closer to Japan, Google Phones are being made in Taiwan by HTC and cobranded by the MNO. The utterly bankable Google brand is definitely not meant to become a MVNO. Yet.
The so nineties Blyk concept is gathering an impressive pool of advertisers for its pan-European launch on Orange networks.
The so eighties Sonopia's DIY MVNO / MVNE concept is gathering an impressive media coverage. Get cool calling cards with your company's logo, grow as big as AT&T in less than two weeks... ego will sell this summer.
But the so Y2Ks WiFi - 3G PC Card concept doesn't sell : Helio Hybrid ends a partnership with Boingo going airbuso...
The MVNO primaries are definitely not over, but Amp'd clearly feels a Joementum - I don't have New Hampshire's figures (nor Canada's, for that matter), but this natural born winner is approaching the 200,000 subs mark (100,000 EOY 2006), with a 84% postpaid customer base (just slightly down from 89%), and ARPU remains strong at $100. Do you want the sign that says "purchase me right now" or the one that reads "wanted : Vegas wedding chapel" ?
Someone must clean this crowded place one way or the other, even the most extreme. Fortunately,
ExtremeMob (extrememob.com) is not the mafia's MVNO but the result of a deal between Xebra Limited and Vodafone UK. This fall, Extreme Mobile Limited will target the X generation with all the Weapons of Mass Disruption of the Extreme Media Group (extrememediagroup.com) : Extreme Sports Channel, Ex Publishing, Extreme Entertainment (content), Ex Events, Extreme Retail and even Extreme Hotels, Extreme Parks, or Extronics. "ExtremeMob is more than just about extreme sports, it’s about being an integral part of the lifestyle of under 24’s". The handset shown in the press release goes with an extreme headset, and the said "under 24's" may go with an extreme hangover thanks to Xebra's Extreme Drinks.
ExtremeMob can claim the Pole position : Xebra was recently purchased by Centernet / NFI Midas.


UNOMobile, COOP and TIM : mobile sells in Italia

"Parlare di più, pagare di meno". Talk more, pay less ; that will be UNOMobile's moto. Is this Carrefour unit a full MVNO or only an ESP (Enhanced Service Provider) ? Anyway, another retailer is launching a MVNO in Italy : COOP will propose CoopVoce to its 6.5M members and their families (18M people overall), aiming for 1M subs in 3 years with a EUR 200 M turnover. CoopVoce will be hosted by TIM.

"Talk no more, unless I pay less". That could be the reason why AT&T declined the same TIM (through the Olympia-Pirelli-Telecom Italia cascade). But American Moviles and France Telecom (now with Morgan Stanley) remain in a shopping mood. For them, it could be "Parlare di più, pagare di piu".

"Parlare di più" ? Vodafone seems to perfectly understand the Italian MVNO dialect : Vodafone Italia will host both UNOMobile and Poste Italiane, and it is even using the same language to talk to fellow brits (BT aims at 10% of the biz market with its convergence offer, but needs a godfather to enter it).

* branded 1Mobile - with the same 1 as the group's trademark logo for its first price products (see unomobile.it - still at the "coming soon" stage).


Helio to hit 100k subs, and to be hit by Earthlink's 10K

According to Helio / Helio powered by SK Telecom, the Hollywood MVNO is "on the path to surpass 100,000 subscribers by early in the second quarter of 2007" (NB : 10 month after launch) and claims an "ARPU of over $100 per month", 25% of which from data services. The proof of concept for their device driven innovation strategy reads in some interesting figures :
- a WAP penetration of over 85%, an average 400 SMS per customer (merry Xmas - those were the stats for December 2006 so you won't get any data regarding the recent launch of Helio Music) - over 70% of Helio members use MySpace Mobile
- over 80% of Helio Drift members have downloaded GPS-enabled Google Maps™ for mobile and about 70% have downloaded Buddy Beacon

According to Earthlink's 10-K, Helio Inc as well as Helio LLC (the opco) are Delaware corporations. This isn't Tinsel Town and the balance sheets are not unleaded. Up to now, each partner has spent $214M in cash and non cash assets ($40M for Earthlink's 27,000 wireless subscribers transferred in 2005, along with equipments and other assets). Each partner will spend 6 more millions in August but beyond that, there is a big question mark.

One thing is sure : the company will keep losing money for a while. Big time, because this is cellular business and even for a M-VNO with a low CAPEX, S curves tend to develop fat bellies. FYI, 2006 revenues reached $46.58M with a full launch in July (68.7% service, 31.2% equipments and other) and accumulated deficit stood at $233.7M. Provided ARPU remains at the same high-usage-low-hanging-early-adopter level,
100,000 subs would mean $120M, and an average customer base of 150,000 over the year would barely match 2006 OPEX ($186.5M). Not only does EY have "substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern", but even a massive success of HELIO would only make things worse in the short term (acquisition costs).

SK Telecom and Earthlink own each 47.8% of the operation. Earthlink can't afford losing money at this pace for long, and SK Telecom could seize the opportunity to take a clearer lead. Or to bring in one ov'em "potential outside investors" (up to now, "outside investors" represented "approximately $8.0 million of funding").

At this stage and especially after the recent US-Korean FTA, I don't see SKT pulling the plug that early. Even with such a fierce competition, it wants HELIO to "achieve or maintain adequate market share or revenue or compete effectively". One one hand, we should see more "Helio powered by SK Telecom" (MySpace's exclusivity is over and the Cyworld brand could blossom beyond the platform). On the other, SKT won't wait 25 years to welcome HELIO's 3 millionth customer.

The fun is just about to start.


Google TiSP - US Open at Flushing Windows

Big G's top execs kept a poker face each time they were asked how their ISP plans were doing ? They just answered with a royal flush.

Forget about PLC (PowerLine Communications) : even in its Beta version, Google TiSP (see Google Box below) sounds like the perfect solution for broadband applications. And Google does have the content to fill the pipes (for those who subscribe by the end of the first day of April, Google Music offers a free download of Screamin' Jay Hawkins's famed "Constipation Blues").

Google Labs are already working on premium add-ons. Rumors mention cross marketing with Nike for Google Air Freshener.

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