The increasing prevalence of 3G will stimulate a new wave of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that offer services beyond discounted SMS and voice calls, analysts have predicted.
According to the Analysys report, MVNOs offering services using the network capabilities of an existing mobile operator are growing rapidly in developed markets, where they are already having a significant impact on customer numbers, churn and average revenue per user.
Service capability, capacity and cost limitations of 2/2.5G networks have constrained the competitive focus of today's MVNOs within price competition and limited non-voice offerings.
However, the study stated that 3G is now poised to fuel the number and diversity of MVNOs, allowing a range of organisations to deliver content and services from their core businesses, including multimedia data services and downloads.
"A new wave of MVNOs are already leading the way," said Alastair Brydon, co-author of the Analysys report.
"Universal Music, TV channel M6 and radio station NRJ all plan to set up MVNOs in France. Sports content provider ESPN, owned by Disney, plans an MVNO in the US, while a number of data-only MVNOs have emerged with services for mobile devices."
Co-author Dr Mark Heath added: "With over 100 MVNOs launched in western Europe and over 25 present or due for launch in the US, mobile operators cannot ignore the impact MVNOs are having."
The report demonstrated that all mobile operators have something to gain from hosting 3G MVNOs.
"Only a relatively small number of mobile operators have taken MVNOs to date as some perceive MVNOs in their discount form to be a major threat," said Brydon. "But the service capabilities of 3G strengthen the case for mobile operators to embrace MVNOs."
According to the analyst firm, the growth in 3G MVNOs may bring about changes in host operator allegiances, as mobile operators vie for the right MVNO partners.
"Hosting MVNOs could be the only viable strategy for 3G new entrants to achieve profitability quickly and avoid unsustainable levels of subscriber acquisition costs," explained Brydon.
"In addition, mobile operators may find themselves battling not just for the loyalty of their own customers, but for MVNOs that have millions of customers."
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