Wednesday, 30 January 2013

why Europe's MVNOs still sing

Europe's MVNOs still singing 7 years on...

Six years on from the original article, and 13 years on from the first European MVNO in the UK, the European market is still singing, fortunately!

MVNO market share Europe

Why is this? Well partly as written in my Future MVNO article of a couple of weeks back; Europe is on the higher side of the highest MVNO % of MVNO market share, and that's a big deal. So if one MVNO in one country can represent as much as all the MVNOs in other countries, there is still a long way to go, and every indication that wholesale can represent much higher market share in mobile as it does in other markets. 
W. Europe is at the higher end of high MVNO market share

While Europe and the US are far ahead of the rest of the world, Europe is far ahead of that, with the UK at 14% MVNO market share, and countries such as Denmark, with Telmore MVNO at 800,000 customers in Denmark... and only 3 people live in Denmark! (I lie, its actually 5.5M...) which makes high double digit MVNO market share for just its biggest MVNO!

Why European MVNOs sing

So what contributes to the European MVNO flurry? Well, in order:

GSM MVNO

The GSM network gives Europe a strong advantage, whereas the first MVNOs in the US were using CDMA, CDMAs have lower yield and lower margin and the switch of a handset is a churn catalyst in CDMA, whereas in GSM MVNOs changing handsets is just a churn opportunity

MVNOs and handset

The buoyant handset market has contributed heavily, in countries like the UK sponsored by MNOs, in countries like Italy funded entirely by the user, and in the UK the iPhone phenomenon saw premium rates. When the iPhone launched in the US it was yours unlimited for $22 per month, in Europe the compulsory extra unlimited data bundle for iPhones was not far from that alone!

MNO MVNO dynamic

The MNOs paid quite a lot for 3G licences, and needed to amortise this investment - wholesale has become the MNO cash cow in Europe, and the above factors allow this to be quite a milk machine!

European MVNO market

The European MVNO market is diverse: despite the "common market" coming in to place an embarrassing amount of time ago, Europe is very, very far from a "common market" - Roaming is still a chore, and 9% of Europeans live in another member state, yes 9%: the niche is the MVNOs friend and Europe is full of niche markets

Original why Europe's MVNOs still sing Article (2007)

RE: Why Europe's Mobile Start-ups Sing

Different markets require different business and marketing models
I was sent an article from Business Week with the above title via email by a client; one of those nice comforting articles that make you feel you have made the right choice by doing many of the things that are in the article as they preach is right, with the added smugness of feeling you are doing something a little extra they have not twigged yet!
They are right in that one MVNO model is the low cost route, however there are more important keys I have seen, from behind the scenes, that have made or broke MVNOs in Europe:
  • One is a good network deal: Never underestimate the value of good advice before embarking upon something as hard to chew as an MVNO. There is no point keeping other costs low, if your single most important cost base is inflexible. These situations remind me of heavy industries with inflexible human resource, only instead of being an inevitable legacy issue, it is more a best avoided product of "staff from legacy networks" issue, which brings me to the next point;
  • One's thinking behind an MVNO has to change, it is not a mini Mobile Network: It has to be approached carefully, and its business model needs to be audited by all those involved.
And this is where the otherwise spot on article loses the thread: it comes to the opinion that the only MVNO model is "no frill" and that the US MVNOs are missing this entirely. Both of these are wrong in my opinion:
  • Firstly, "no frills" is not the only MVNO model for Europe; it is just the only one that has managed to master the two points above: thinking differently and keeping costs low. However, there have been casualties, both of which had the "no frills" model that the article preaches, but made both of the grave errors above.
  • Secondly, "no frills", like many European models, is not a model for the US; just look at the all popular iPhone as an example: In the US, AT&T are selling the iPhone for as little as $59 per month. For that you get the all important iPhone, unlimited data, 5000 off-peak minutes, 200 SMS and 450 inclusive minutes... As the iPhone launches in Europe, and more specifically the UK, I very much doubt it will be had for £25 per month, let alone with unlimited data (although on 2.5G only, "unlimited" is not that much!). Where is this going? In the US, mobile, like most consumer goods, is already "no frills" in price, so MVNOs in the US have to compete on other VAS, like the examples of Healthcare in my now ageing but once best selling Next Gen MVNO report... and for those of you thinking this is a plug, its not, its worse; its a "I told you so" ;-)!.
The real MVNO models are yet to come, and while in Europe they will definitely have to be competitive on price, in both the US and in Europe, and the Rest of the World, customers buy, recommend and repeat purchase on many things above price, and I would suggest even the successful "no frills" MVNOs, when you scratch below the surface, have succeeded on qualities offered to their customers beyond price.

posted by Christian Borrman 11:26am 25/09/07