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UK’s Ethnic MVNO Boom: Desi Mobi, Vizz Mobile, Lebara, Lyca

(By Anupam Saxena and Nikhil Pahwa)

Specialized Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) are being launched in the UK – by mobile operators or through aggregators – targeting diverse ethnic groups in the country. The MVNO’s are looking to leverage international calls to their country of origin, as well as diaspora specific content; what’s interesting is that they’re trying to replace international calling card services:

– Desi Mobi, launched in November 2010 over Vodafone’s network, targets South-Asians living in the UK, and offers talk plans specially designed for South Asians with a flat call rate for all calls made within the country, and to South Asian countries, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It also provides Asian and British content through its WAP portal ‘Starlight’ (emulator) for which it has a tie-up with entertainment portal Desi Hits. Apparently, it intends to provide exclusive deals and promotions to its subscribers, in partnerships with event management company Voodoo Entertainment, ethnic dating site AsianD8, and Asian events guide ChilliTickets through Desi World.

– Vizz Mobile: Another MVNO that plans to address the Sri Lankan ethnic group in the UK is Vizz Mobile, which is being launched this month. Run by telecom solutions provider QiComm, Vizz has a tie-up with Sri Lankan mobile operator Dialog for termination of calls, and plans to offer cheaper call rates to Sri Lankans living in UK.

Lebara: targets migrant workers with prepaid SIM cards and highlights its international direct dialing feature (unlike in case of international calling cards), and multi-lingual online support and customer service. Lebara also operates MVNO operations in Australia and Western Eureopean countries and targets immigrant populations of these countries settled in the UK.

– Another service, Lyca Mobile, has an MVNO deal with O2, and offers low call rates for the South Asian diaspora – Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi. It claims to have around 6 million customers across Europe.

While most of these MVNOs offer a no-frills call and text service with lower international call rates, Desi Mobi appears to be focusing on entertainment content and other value added services to differentiate its offering in an expanding market and appeal to the Asian diaspora. Of course, given that these services target a migrant population, perhaps mobile money transfer would be a good fit for them.

In India

In India, MVNO’s have failed to make a mark, even as “franchisees” of telecom operators; there are two in India, both with Tata Teleservices: Virgin Mobile, whose operating team has now been amalgamated into that of Tata Teleservices, and T24 from the Future Group, which marries retail with telecom.

India still doesn’t allow MVNO’s. Question is, with so many telecom operators, will allowing MVNO’s make a difference?

Selling Mobile Numbers Like Credit Cards? Tata Launches Retail Telecom Brand T24 With Future Group
Can The Future Group Launch MVNO Services Yet? No Final Policy In India
DoT Accepts TRAI Recommendations On MVNOs In India; Who Has The Spectrum?

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