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In the American telcom industry — or at least the media covering it — the acronym MVNO is viewed negatively. Everyone thinks back to the spree in the mid 00s and how so many of them failed. ESPN Mobile, Disney Mobile, and Amp’d Mobile just headline the list of virtual operators — those that buy minutes wholesale from major carriers — that closed shop. But if you look around, there are plenty of MVNO success stories. In the future there should be more. Back in 2008 I talked to Alex Besen of the Besen Group on the Prepaid Podcast. In it he predicted that MVNOs would succeed more when the wireless penetration rate plateaued. He’s looking more right on that. Now he’s made another prediction about the US MVNO market.
We’ve seen many virtual operators — such as PlatinumTel and Simple Mobile — offer data plans. It seems like a big thing for MVNOs these days. That trend shouldn’t slow. Besen predicts that by 2017 the US will have the largest mobile data MVNO market in the world. Specifically, he pegs the number at 920 virtual operators that offer data services to their customers. That’s an exciting prospect. It means that customers will have more choices when picking a smartphone and service.
Of course, 2017 is a long way off. It’s always tough to gauge predictions like this. But after talking with Alex for just a few minutes it’s clear that he knows his stuff. I’m not sure he’ll be right in this instance, but even if he’s wrong I don’t think he’ll be too far off.