Orange has signed a deal with Mobile Virtual Network Aggregator (MVNA) Transatel to handle technical details for as yet unborn MVNOs that could now launch within weeks rather than months.
MVNA is such a new concept that it doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry yet, but that's not stopped Orange signing a deal with one to provide a simplified point of integration for MVNOs. It should allow an MVNO to launch with as little as six weeks of integration work, and the companies reckon that working together they could foster up to 20 MVNOs a year, though it's hard to imagine a fraction of that number would actually be interested.
Mobile Virtual Network Operators apply their own brand to a service run on someone else's network. The division of labour varies widely between deals, with some MVNOs running their own technical support, call routing, and billing, while others just apply brand stickers to the operator's existing offerings. The MVNA does deals with the latter, but removes the burden from the operator entirely.
Marc Overton (Orange's VP of New Business) told us that the pitch is towards "ethnic" MVNOs where customers number between 50 and 200 thousand, who have no interest in actually running a mobile network but don't have to scale to get round the table with a network operator. Such brands should be able to integrate with Transatel's systems, and thus with Orange, quickly and cheaply.
America has a plethora of such small-scale MVNOs, you can even set up your own with a few clicks of the mouse, but the concept has a much more patchy history in the UK. Strong brands such as Tesco and Virgin have made it work, but more-innovative companies such as Blyk and Dot Mobile have swiftly gone to the wall.
But with O2 launching a democratically-driven MVNO, and Red Bull getting in on the act, perhaps we are on the verge of an explosion in (virtual) operator numbers. ®