Tuesday, 26 June 2018

MVNO in a box and cloud MVNO / MVNE - What do they mean

Cloud means many things to many people

Cloud means many things to many people, but as far as virtual mobile is concerned, it really means virtualisation, stuff that was designed to be on multiple machines, put in a single environment for operational and service effectiveness. The reason or a single virtual environment. The reason for this is that you cannot put all of the elements needed for a full MVNE in the cloud yet (like install it on AWS) so you have to create your own, which is not as easy as it sounds: many people just do not have the license or rights to sell on a complete system to a 3rd party. In short, most MVNEs are like an internet cafe, with, hopefully, licences to let their customer use computers with the software they bought on the, but they do not have a right to resell all of that software for a separate resale or resale of a resale.
Cloud and in-a-box is only a real benefit if all services are integrated on a single Single Virtual Environment 

When is cloud really a benefit as opposed to just marketing gumpf?

Just like before setting up Conecto, I worked on one of the biggest companies and best know brands in the world global MVNE strategy, not only did we have this issue, but furthermore; Not one MVNE passed our operational or financial due diligence, so we had to go with suppliers who let us deploy as we wished and build our own. My previous client, before Conecto was built, had to go with the least bad MVNE at the time, which was far from ideal.
So now we have the Cloud issue dealt with, lets get to what “in a box” means!
That means everything on a single virtual environment, not just OSS, BSS; reporting, OTA... the lot!

What does in-a-box really mean?

Conecto has spent 3 years, taking so called off the shelf "in a box”, some of them already cloud or part cloud, services, making them fully cloud, NFV, SDN capable... however we found the world of MVNE is not so in a box and we needed to put more in the box than we bargained for... like a whole new SBC, MSC, SMSC and GGSN, as well as other services like OTA needed completely re-integrating to make it work.

When is in-a-box really a benefit as opposed to marketing gumpf?

What most people mean when they say “in a box” is that they in fact have a collection of boxes prepackaged and selected for you in another box, all of which, again, cause huge operational and other issues.

In short, there is no point having a bunch of connected “clouds”, single virtual environments” or “boxes in a box”, as APIs, connectivity, and even security patching and regression, along with and other changes and even basic debugging mean that achieving over 99% uptime is impossible. 
In short, true cloud benefits are achieved by taking ALL the elements of a fully running, INTEGRATED service and putting them on one virtual machine and networking service. Only then can you:
  • Resource flexibility; instead of having to physically take a machine down, etc, you can allocate more resource remotely, 
  • Apply levels of security and operational processes above and beyond the donor services
  • Multiply connectivity for example to 8 or 16 SMSCs vs only 2
  • Assure that data stays within a single network environment when being reported, stored and processed.
  • Lastly but not least(ly); achieve 99.9xxx uptime when donors only promise 97% in some cases.

How far can the box stretch?

So next time someone tries to sell you “in a box” and / or a cloud MVNE, make sure you scratch below the surface and see what it really means, as in the last 4 years of RFPs and migrations of customers from pretty much every major MVNE player, we can only conclude that we are the only MVNE that has this, or at least has customers using and taking advantage of the operational flexibility and other benefits that true cloud and in a box offers.
There is no point having a selection of boxes in a box, as it does not give the operational efficiency to do all this!

Promotional Advert for our sponsor and only truly cloud in-a-box mvne I am aware of in the sense of offering true benefits to MVNOs and their customers as outlined above: true operational efficiency and flexibility.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

MVNO Gold Rule #3 - Have a Hard Stop Launch Date

Have a Hard Launch Date, as early as an MVP possible and Stick to it - MVNO Gold Rules

It used to be a lot easier in the past; with full MVNOs the test window with the MNO could close and take weeks or months to access again, to name but one. However in the new cloud based world its all so flexible and easy that its easy to just keep slipping another month, but I have noticed that with this the number of failed MVNO, that is the ones that never make it to market, not those that launch and fail, is on the up. 
Failure to launch at the earliest is possibly one of the biggest risks to your MVNO every launching or being successful
The problem of missing launch dates is manifold:

The first biggest problem is the seasonal issues you can encounter. While below I explain why seasonality most effects the MNOs and insufficiently differentiated MVNOs, you are still making it harder on yourself, will have smaller uptake, will have a lower success rate, higher customer acquisition cost, have impacts from staff being away (summer, Christmas, etc), find it difficult to react to a sales spike (try asking for more SIMs over Christmas!) have staffing issues, etc, etc, etc.

The second being that its very easy for “golden goose” or “launchaphobia” to set in. Its a simple human nature that is even more exaggerated in business where a normally laissez-faire person can be become a risk-averse freak and a risk-averse freak in their personal life can become and agoraphobic in business: the more you leave something the bigger an obstacle it becomes, and the more prepared you need to be... Face it, most people are not just afraid of change, they are petrified of it

The third being that you leave your product open to corporate sabotage. I say this in a nice way, as it should be called corporate terrorism: at best this is the person who is most risk averse in the team and was probably the least been the decision, starts getting cold feet and seeding doubt. At worst you have these risks:

  1. The corporate terrorist, neigh-sayer, also known as corporate pimp. These are the guys who know all the pitfalls but never have any answers that do not involve burying / over spending / delaying, procrastinating in the name of... put them on QA or something, but not product development.
  2. "Not invented here merchant" - great people to manage operations, terrible in anything customer facing - let them know when its done and have dotted line: on the RACI they should be consulted / informed
  3. The neigh-sayer - send them back to whatever they did that was useful, but MVNO is not for them, as per point 2 above.
  4. “Specialist consultant” These are usually lone wolves, for a reason, nobody else can stand working for them, they have done a few MVNOs in specific areas and now want to branch out to do everything but seriously lack the knowledge. Easily found out by asking how much repeat business they have from MVNOs they have worked on / launched.
  5. The 11th hour dark (trojan) horse. These are usually internal and are very dangerous, like a dormant, deadly virus residing deep in spinal nerves waiting to cripple the business at the last minute spewing out all the concerns that a responsible adult would have brought up ages ago, but with a veneer that is taken as seriously as the manifestation of a format virus usually is. They shut up and put up, but in reality bottle up until the last moment they come in with lines like "as I was not properly consulted", "as per our gated procedure", "has business change been consulted" ... invite them to take their amazing, unique expertise and apply it to BAU, or if they insist on working on something new, suggest they are rated here and invite them to set-up their own business :)
  6. Gaining fat. Literally, like the last bird to fly, the harder it will be as you will be fatter, less fit and juicier to predators. When you fail to launch you invariably get fatter: more people, more resources, etc. and it just gets harder from there, and the juicier and more helpless you become to predators.
  7. The person who does not get the simple difference between beta and production, early adopter and mass market, new product vs established, and tells you how hard it will be to market, support, etc, etc.
I could go on, but have just put the main ones here... Seriously, stop reading this and launch already!

Seasonatily - Launch Dates are not Easy 

Conventional MVNO wisdom dictates that you should not launch on these dates, there are reasons for this and reasons against, however it is more important to launch than not, and these seasonal rules apply more to a fully fledged mass market product, so below I go into how to mitigate these issues in next section.

  • Over the summer as people are away and nobody will see or care for your marketing
  • In the run up to Chirstmas as the MNOs and Handset Manufacturers are spending their big bucks and customers become bessoted with “Free” handset deals.
  • In January as nobody buys a mobile then

It’s better to Launch off Season than Delay

While conventional mobile marketing wisdom, which of course by de facto became MVNO marketing wisdom, dictated that you cannot sell mobile in the following periods
  • Over the summer as people are away and nobody will see or care for your marketing (spot the old school non digital thinking here). You can get around this by launching a roaming offer / summer offer, using marketing tools like "reach on the beach" by Facebook, etc, etc.
  • In the run up to Christmas as the MNOs and Handset Manufacturers are spending their big bucks and customers become besotted with “Free” handset deals. (This assumes the old model where the vast majority of handsets and service was bought from an MNO or an MNO reseller). There are lot's of people who plan to do this, but then the reality of credit checks and undersigning someone else's phone kicks in and they are back looking back at the MVNOs in a key purchase period: be there!
  • In January as nobody buys a mobile then (err, nobody buys from an MNO who has squeezed every drop out of its marketing for the previous two months!) The Christmas phones have a 7 to 30 day return period... and lots get returned... again be there!

The BIG Caveat

Do not launch any old rubbish; there needs to be a USP that you deliver. Just one USP, and delivered. The biggest pitfalls here are
  1.  Not 2 or 3 wishy washy USPs rolled into one, what we call a "pot pourri USP" or multiple hard USPs that have nothing to do with each other "Frankenstein USP" or "Jekyll and Hyde USP". 
  2. Some light "MVNO wash" rebrand of an MNO service, like free social networks (post 2013 when all the MNOs copied the early adopter MVNOs who did this)
  3. Some rebrand of an old MVNO, or some MVNE that has only ever done one type of product / no differentiated services. MVNEs are not all alike, ask your MVNE for references and ask your self do these products really differentiate from the market? if not, you are talking to the wrong MNO / MVNE and failure is only a launch to administration period away!
I cover some of these in the synopsis of one of the 2015 workshop at the Nice Global MVNO conference. However I have added another slide here below that focusses on the single USP for launch.
If your MVNO product does not have a SINGLE, DELIVERABLE, USP then try harder. And no that USP is not low cost!
If you want to run this or another full MVNO workshop or masterclass tailored to your team please use the contact on the right. 

So when do I launch

In sum, while its better to launch, if you can off season, if you are ready in Christmas or June, 1st, get on with it, if your pre christmas launch slips and it means launching 27th December or 2nd January - do it... (you will be amazed how a slip never happens again!). At the end of the day, an MVNO is a retail business, and lives on margin, growth, sales feedback and data, word of mouth, recommendations, etc... all of which start at day 1.


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?