Saturday, 2 December 2017

MVNO Gold Rule #2 - Own The Customer, Sensibly and cost effectively

MVNO HLR Own the Customer

In the early days of the MVNO a prevailing thought was that an MVNO needed to own the Home Location Register (HLR) in order to won the customer, which in a sense is true, however there are much more important ways of owning the customer rather than just the HLR, some of which actually challenges the ownership of the HLR, however these all need taking in context.

Customer touch points

Owning the customer is much more than an HLR, or a database - its owning the experience of all customer touch points
The most important customer ownership points come from actually owning the customer relationship, that means charging, self-care, as well as the usual sales and marketing.

Owning the customer means owning the customer experience across the whole user journey:


  1. Marketing, customer acquisition and brand (everybody gets that, mostly)
  2. Self-care: is your brand empowering, low-cost or care centric? Is mobile your first or a complimentary brand, is mobile your core business or a loss leader, all these points will influence how you want to care for the customer.
  3. HLR, GGSN, DPI, PCRF, IVR, if you can own these, not for the sake of it, you can differentiate a product more, but they are not essential and do not differentiate a service by itself
  4. Customer care

Self-care owned by MVNO

Some of the early legacy platforms had rebrandable self-care platforms for the MVNO-in-a-box oxymoron that circulated: The very essence of an MVNO is to differentiate itself from the MNO, but also other MVNOs, so the very concept of an MVNO in a box is a misnomer and dead end for anything other than a small scale trial. To own the customer you need to at least own the first level touch points along the value chain after the initially obvious sales and marketing, and they begin in the self care. No matter what you skimp on as an MVNO, you need to own this experience.

So many early MVNOs tried this, in fact even MNOs did this in the early days when online sales were below 1% of sales, MNOs outsourced the whole online sales to third parties, but these times were different, they were pre phishing and the internet was full of pages with active gifs galore, in today's internet world, it is just not acceptable to be transported off to another site to look after a customer, in a very generic way. 

Also, while an MVNO may be able to launch with a "patchware" selfceare service, as the product evolves this approach will either become a change request hell or mean the product cannot evolve as it grows from early adopter, to follow sales to mass market.

In short, caring for the customer is part of owning the customer and that experience cannot be "out of the box" if you want any hope of doing it properly.

Payment gateways need to be owned by the MVNO

Another point some MVNOs try to skimp on or MVNEs try to over supply is with is payment gateways. an MNO or MVNE should never be taking payments on behalf of a brand. These days of multiple start-ups providing payment gateways the MVNO needs to integrate the legacy (old bank run gateways) the new (start-up payment processors) and the in betweens like Paypal (many people sell their old handsets on ebay), as well as be integrating with Apple and Android payments for realtime notifications and updates of bundles, top-ups, and other billing related events.

Handset and SIM Configuration

Some OTA APN services are so bad they take up as much as 50% of customer service times, this is not good. This means 50% of ARPU disappearing in a way that does not own, but rather disown the customer.

SIMs are also a key touch point. There is no point spending half your customer acquisition cost on a glossy SIM and SIM pack (the latter of which goes straight in the bin) if every time someone looks at their phone it says something other than who you are, and the SIM menu is some generic afterthought.

Customer care

Virgin Mobile UK was voted best UK Network Operator for 13 years in a row by Mobile Choice Magazine, while its mostly then identical host, One 2 One, then T-Mobile, etc. was mostly voted the worst! One 2 One's service was so bad that another UK brand refused to launch with them and the MNO moniker was one 2 no-one. Virgin knew that by owning customer service (and selfcare) they could change this, and they did, by also keeping its MVNO simple so when you called their well trained staff could answer your question in one call with one agent.

Owning customer care is also the only way to control rising costs to serve, which can kill MVNOs if left unchecked as they scale.

Apple, owning the customer vs owning the customer via the HLR

When doing workshops with MVNOs, the key is to make people think proactively about issues, as running an MVNO, or even an MVNE is hard; mobile is complex and issues will arise daily that on some occasions can seem like mountains to surpass that threaten the very existence of the MVNO in question. If an MVNE team does do not learn to help its MVNO, and more importantly the MVNO does not learn to see the wood for the trees, then it simply will not survive.

So yes, a simple way to own the customer is to own the HLR, and if the service is not sufficiently differentiated, then owning the HLR does effectively own the customer, however the out of the box challenge goes like this: At first, Apple's iPhone was only sold by one mobile network in each country. In the US it was AT&T, in the UK it was O2 Telefonica, etc. Before the other networks in each country started also selling iPhones, these operators had millions and millions of customers. You therefore have to ask yourself - if AT&T or O2 had lost the iPhone exclusive, how many of those customers would have stayed and kept their SIM with another phone on that network??? The answer is none, literally. Apple does not own an HLR, or even a basic reseller model, what it owns is the touch points like selfceare...

DPI, IVR, etc

While these services can help you differentiate, if you just use them to give away free WhatsApp or use an off the shelf IVR menu tree that has loads of options customers really do not need nor wish to waste their time listening to, then what is the point. These really should be owned by the right customer, and most probably in house and not part of the MVNE as they need to be so focussed at your user journey they really do not "MVNO in a box" at all well, as bad an idea that is for other services as it is.
cost to serve

If you need any more convincing, why does Apple not let resellers play with the software? Why does Samsung insist on playing with Android and adding its own look and feel?

Friday, 17 March 2017

MVNO Gold rule #1 - Keep it Simple

MVNO Gold rule #1 - Keep it Simple

This is the most ignored rule of all and one of the biggest culprit of failed MVNOs, and by that I mean not the launched MVNOs that fail, but moreover the huge amount that never make it to launch due to over complication, which in turn creates delays and cost which moreover lead to uncertainty and uncontrolled risk in the eyes of many - the killer of all things new and venturous!

But that is not possible, you see, when someone is tasked with creating a mobile pricing model, they revert into what I have become to call the Jekyll-Hyde Frankenstein... a freakish monster of all things mobile rolled into one, with every good idea they have ever seen in mobile across the world, ever, in enterprise, consumer, travel, low-end, high-end; you name it; there is a tariff for it and a model behind it!
The first bicycle - as designed by the average MVNO and MVNO consultant as their first launch product *sigh*. Source

The concept is simple - create a first simple MVNO tariff that will


  1. Make your MVNO competitors think you are going nowhere as an MVNO
  2. An MVNO tariff that will only be attractive to your core Niche and not be at all attractive to the masses of freeloaders, fraudsters, etc. If you cannot charge a premium for at least 1,000 or a few thousand early adopter users you do not have a Niche product that will sell and need to go back to the drawing board.
  3. Be attractive to your core MVNO audience and your limited amount of first MVNO SIMs and bandwidth to respond to real customer feedback
  4. Listen to customers and follow your MVNO brand with private, below the line offers that your competitors do not see but your real early adopter customers can promote to your next "me too" customers
  5. Keep MVNO prices within a sensible range to create trust and avoid anything that needs a footnote like Free this*, unlimited other ¹, etc.
  6. Don't be lazy and just do "free social networks MVNO" or "free VoIP app MVNO" which was OK in 2010 to 2015, or if it is part of a wider campaign but now is weak and infinitely copiable.
  7. Leave your MVNO super tariffs for when you are mass market MVNO
This is difficult to do, the MVNO MVP is elusive, but the easiest way to do it is to start early and get whatever you have working first with a USP that is not easy to copy out to market.

MVNO Survey Report Knect365 (Informa)

MVNO Survey Report now out

I do hope you filled out the MVNO survey, as of course I did, and now the results are out and make for quite an interesting read. 
One of the various Infographics from the report, largely reflecting customer feedback
Largely reflecting what the movers and shakers among both my Next Generation MVNE and MVNO Consultancy customers are doing and reporting from around the world, namely:
  • While the largest investment for 2017 is technology (50%) followed by customer services (25%), this effort is being focussed on M2M/IoT and enablers such as VoIP and WiFi (and deducing from this 4G also) with only 12% seeing for example eSIM having and impact on their business in 2017. Whilst we do have eSIM opportunities with customers that go back 10 to 15 years as an emerging technology, by far the biggest growth is in the lead up to 5G MVNO and IoT and M2M across the MVNE and MVNO consultancy business.
  • The biggest growth for 2017 will come from Asia, Africa and Europe and to some extent the US, with Latam, the golden promise of 2016 and 2016 that never delivered, still not delivering significant growth in 2017 either at only 5%