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Rise of MVNO market in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand

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MVNOs have been around since the launch of first Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) i.e. Virgin Mobile, UK in 1999. According to GSMA intelligence, as of the end of 2015, the world’s Mobile Network Operator (MNOs) hosted 1038 MVNOs and 277 MNO sub-brands. But the recent gains – according to latest estimates the global MVNO market is expected to be worth USD 73 Billion and the number of subscribers to exceed 300 million, growing at a CAGR of 10% by 2020 – is noteworthy. The rise of sharper competition, cost of new investment, saturating margins have made MVNOs more business friendly option. They are gaining traction even in Asia’s frontrunner economies Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand also.

Let’s look at it more closely :


In Malaysia, 12 MVNOs battle it out against 4 MNOs (Celcom, Maxis, Digi, U-Mobile). But MVNOs have been quite successful in eroding the prepaid base of established MNOs. Despite the crowded market, the MVNOs are still budding up quickly. Malaysia is one of the most dynamic and most successful MVNO markets in South East Asia, which is credited to regulatory environment and network operators who view MVNOs not as competitors but as a new source of revenue. A few MVNOs have successfully created their niche by targeting the no-frills and traditional segment in particular i.e. – Merchantrade, REDtone International, Tune Talk, XOX Com have targeted specific user segments (for example, students, immigrants, tourists etc.). MVNOs also differentiate by bundling services e.g. RedONE provides 20GB data with free voice calls at RM 48/month. Malaysian MVNOs offer longer term plans e.g. Tron claims to be the only Malaysian telecom company with 365-day validity plans for top ups and free intra-network calls.


The Thailand telecommunication landscape centers on 5 MNOs (CAT, TOT, AIS, DTAC & True). MVNOs started services seven years ago in Thailand and in 2016, 42 MVNO licenses were issued out of which 9 are operational today mostly on CAT and TOT Mobile Networks. The telecom market here is comparatively small, except for Real Move – the major MVNO in the region. A few MVNOs launched so far had limited success due to host operator’s inability to provide the basic support, fierce competition and regulatory guidelines in the region. The challenges that regulatory guidelines pose in Thailand is quite evident as the MVNO Club (formed by four MVNOs of CAT Telecom) asked NBTC (Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission) to revise MVNO rules. The group also demanded an increase in subscriber limit from 200,000 to 1Mn and also revoke the rule, which required them to sell 70% of numbers assigned before applying for more numbers. The number limit currently has been increased to 500,000. In spite of all the challenges, even the MVNOs on their part have failed to create their niche in the market.


There is only one MVNO existing with 4 MNOs (SingTel Mobile, StarHub , M1, TPG Telecom started in 2017) in a consolidated Singapore market. For a long time, Singapore has been a stagnant market with limited MNOs, entry of MVNO last year has somewhat stimulated the market. In May 2016 the first MVNO Circles. Life was launched on M1 network, which offers its customers the option of customizing plans. It also offers a unique customer experience, where everything would be done online from customer on-boarding to care to support. There are no physical stores of the operator. Singapore was a saturated telecom market with SIM card penetration of 150%. The rise in competition has led to a fall in ARPU over last nine months of 2016. Singapore has the fifth largest market in terms of mobile penetration with penetration reaching 149% in 2016. Sterlite Tech has been in the thick of the growing curve. Out of all the MVNO’s mentioned above Sterlite Tech has enabled 5 MVNO’s and 1 MVNE in Thailand and Singapore.

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