Since the late 1990’s, Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) have popped up around the world in response to regulations created to inspire competition, or as a way to sell off unused cellular network capacity in bulk. By providing another source for mobile service, they served needs the large Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) couldn’t, and kept competition (more) honest. Now, in the face of evolving technology and usage patterns, MVNOs are transitioning from voice providers, to purveyors of data that sometimes happens to be mobile voice data. Here’s why.
Mobile VoIP is all the buzz.
Now that we’ve collectively realized VoIP can work on our cell phones, voice plans are being dumped like a dull prom date. The reason MVNOs are important in the shift to data is that they aren’t invested in infrastructure. They’re nimble. It’s easy for these aggregator/resellers to shift with market trends toward lower cost, more in demand services.
To find out more about what’s happening on the ground, I called up Joseph Vida, Director of Sales at iRoam Mobile Solutions Inc. iRoam provides enterprises with mobile data roaming in 120 countries around the world by forging wholesale agreements with MNOs globally, so Joe knows the industry like keys of his 3-year-old laptop.
“We’re seeing Mobile VoIP become a big topic,” Joe told me. “The enterprise is finally looking at it as a strategic alternative to leveraging the traditional GSM networks.” Businesses that are using Lync, Skype, Viber, VoIP and other collaboration tools are realizing they can access that same functionality over a single data connection on mobile devices, and that they can do it anywhere. The proliferation of VoIP-based applications, such as mobile softphones like Bria, as a means of communication, is pushing purely voice connections out of the picture. Or as Joe put it, “If you look at the opportunities for where voice plays a part in people’s lives, and then you look at data, there are just so many more opportunities.”
Integrating access is getting easier.
Technology is making it easier to merge voice and data connections, and to gain access from anywhere. E.G., iRoam now offers a MiFi hotspot that can house up to 8 SIM cards that optimize data connections for speed and cost efficiency all over the world. By integrating network access for voice and data, relationships and billing are easier for MVNOs to manage.
The model for growth.
This whitepaper by Informa Telecoms and Media predicts MVNO market share to grow dramatically over the next four years. As the business market demands more data, smart MVNOs will shift gears to quench that thirst. The paper’s principal analyst, Dario Talmesio, concludes that, “Flexibility in both technology and business processes remains one of the most important characteristics for MVNOs if they are to launch, prosper and remain profitable in these very rapidly transforming markets.”
I believe we will see the responsiveness of MVNOs facilitate accelerated adoption of mobile VoIP. The problem, as Mae Kowalke pointed out on TMCnet’s Mobile VoIP channel, is that as more traditional carriers hold onto the old ways of collecting revenue, they might challenge the tide of VoIP demand by charging different rates for VoIP traffic over their data networks. The cost benefit of running voice over data connections would become less attractive. But those carriers, such as Vodacom, that have explored the practice will likely find themselves stranded in the past.
The same fate will, of course, befall those MVNOs that ignore the shift to data. The days of segregating voice traffic from the rest of communications data aren’t on next year’s calendar. It is easier, cheaper, and more efficient for end users to amalgamate communication channels through one path. And it is just smart business to make that path available to them.