Updated: Jan 11
For every failure amongst former MVNOs (ESPN, Disney, AMP’d, etc. etc.) there are incredible success stories of those MVNOs that have solved the puzzle of having BOTH a Differentiator and a Distribution plan and have filled a new or underserved niche. A study put out earlier this year shows that the market size of MVNOs in North America continues to grow at rates higher than it did just nine to ten years ago.
Statista, in a February 2017 study shows that while growth in 2012 was only about 7% over the previous year on $15 billion USD; revenues in 2022 will top $35 billion USD, growing 10% over 2021. This is not fueled only by the big three (Cricked, Metro by T-Mobile and Boost) but by the dozens of innovative and niche breaking MVNOs who have developed (and in some cases invented) new markets.
Let's Revisit History
Consumer Cellular was not the first to appeal to the +55 and over age market. Who remembers Jitterbug (better known first as Great Call, now Lively, and owned by Best Buy)? Large buttons, easy to use and rumored to have a dial tone when it first arrived so seniors weren’t confused that it wasn’t working. Consumer Cellular perfected the product with heavy advertising (have you watched Jeopardy! lately?), an affiliation with AARP and a focused distribution that first had customers buying directly from the company and then introducing it through Target stores. Four million customers later, they were bought for $2.3 billion by private equity firm GTCR.
But GreatCall/Lively didn’t give up. The large, easy to use phones are now complemented by other devices and Lively is a leading provider of connected health and personal emergency response services to the aging population.
Red Pocket Mobile was the first MVNO to offer all four carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint) under one brand name. In 2006, Red Pocket CEO Joshua Gordon figured out that not all networks were equal in all parts of the United States so he gave his customers a choice and literally coined the phrase, “choose your network.” While they have undergone a few changes in distribution strategies, Red Pocket Mobile is alive and very well after sixteen years in an industry that has seen many larger name brand companies go bust. The company even recently began marketing on TV, its first major TV ads ever.
What's Next For MVNOs?
I have written extensively about the opportunities that lie ahead for MVNOs. With the continued expansion of 5G and IoT, along with smart entrepreneurs who I speak with every day, it’s not unusual that I am being asked to provide guidance and introductions to MVNOs operating in other countries who want to expand into the US market, as well as provide contacts and hands on assistance to MVNEs and the carriers themselves from very smart people that want to enter the space.
As the entire mobile category continues to grow, and the forecast for 10% growth in the MVNO space as noted above, new niches are being brought to our attention every week. Associations, membership groups, etc. all want to get their piece of the pie so to speak. Atrium Unlimited Consulting (yours truly) has had to leave our “comfort zone” and bring in two new members for our Advisory Board in order to meet the demanding needs of new entrants to our space.
As we introduce savvy business people to the world of wireless, it’s important to put them together with the right partners, whether a direct connection to the carrier is warranted or introducing them and working towards getting an agreement with a T-Mobile aggregator, a Verizon enabler like Telisphire or AT&T’s Partner Exchange Group (APEX). Solutions for different needs is what we provide as every potential MVNO has (hopefully) a new market to serve.
Okay, Just What I Need....More Competition!
What does this mean for our incumbent MVNOs? No need to panic. Competition and innovation have been around since before the first industrial revolution. Competition makes us all better and without it, we sometimes become complacent. What should YOU be doing? As I’ve written before, search out those new opportunities in the communities that you serve. Have you asked your carrier how you will get to play in IoT or what is the build out plan for 5G where you and your dealers sell?
A famous quote states that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” --- Oscar Wilde. The debate will continue on just who started marketing to the over 55-year-old crowd, Jitterbug or Consumer Cellular? One thing is for sure, each of the major carriers, as well as a lot of MVNOs, now have plans targeted to that demographic and they didn’t start doing that just to become a “me-too” provider. Many members of the aging population don’t need unlimited data packages to stream TV or use for gaming. Maybe Talk, Text and 1GB of data meets their needs and carriers are happy getting $19.99 a month while MVNOs save the unlimited data for higher paying subscribers.
What other things are some MVNOs doing that you’re not? Unlimited calling to certain countries? Ethnic marketing? Has anyone followed Mint Mobile with prepaying three, six or twelve months of service?
The bottom line is that you don’t have to be an innovator in the wireless space to be successful. AT&T and Verizon both followed T-Mobile when they first broke ground with “no more two-year contracts” and then followed that with Unlimited Data. The Un-Carrier paved the way, just as many MVNOs might have done for you. There’s a reason that Metro, Cricket and Boost have almost 40 million customers between them and their growth and innovation started long before their corporate parents stepped in.
If you see something that’s working, see if it’s right for you and your customers. Don’t get complacent as the wireless world is changing faster than it ever has before.
As always, let us at Atrium Unlimited Consulting help you define new markets and opportunities. We’d love to hear from you. If nothing else, I’d love to talk about your business and see what you’re doing to be different!