How to build an MVNO

At our most recent MEX conference we ran a workshop session which brought together 6 experts from across the mobile industry value chain to describe the process of building an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). Each workshop leader examined a specific area, ranging from consumer research to customer service, while the audience was able to pose questions to the assembled panel as the session unfolded.

An MVNO was chosen as it represents the creation of a complete customer experience, incorporating all of the elements which combine to form an overall impression of a mobile service in the user’s mind.

The following is extracted from our 32 page report on the MEX conference, which includes complete coverage of all the event’s sessions as well as access to the presentations. The report is available for purchase for GBP 395 + VAT at

Scott Weiss, CEO, Usable Products Company, talked about consumer research. He described focus groups, online surveys and usability testing.

Focus groups solicit opinions from a targeted audience through open ended questions.


  • work best with ten people of less (by region) otherwise they become unmanageable.
  • are NOT good for usability data
  • are NOT for generating ideas, better for responding to them
  • are best done by separating groups by age – as people don’t like sharing views across ages

    Online surveys provide quantitative results from focus group results. It critical to perform the same survey across different proposed regions. It’s important to know when to change business approach – don’t drive a survey to justify a bad business idea.

    Surveys should have…

  • at least 1000 participants
  • a maximum of 10 questions

    Usability testing produces performance data about the user interface.
    Most testing is qualitative. Usability is quantitative.

  • 20 respondents is a practical number
  • 10 products is practical maximum, 5 is ideal number

    Usability testing allows comparison of products and established practices.

    Sofia Svanteson, Head of Research & Development, Ocean Observations described what goes into defining a device. There are seven categories…

  • Trends. Fashion.
  • User. Age, gender, demographics, early adopter, occupation, social status
  • Usage. Size, balance, weight. Users tend to be looking for usability/ruggedness OR Look and feel
  • Market. Geographic. Rugged.
  • Brand. Association with known brands (as opposed to network operators). Branding of UI in all applications.
  • Position. competitors, high end/low end.
  • Technology/features. Alarms, camera, software (calculator)

    Geoff Kendall, CTO, Next Device, described how the ‘right’ user interface is critical. Currently, data content and device features are crammed under the same user interface. This leads to confusion, frustration and the user not being aware of what’s actually on the device. Performing tasks requires too many actions. Sometimes these actions are across many applications.

    How to improve the UI…

  • Make every click count
  • Drop application centric UIs in favour of task driven ones
  • Minimise ‘distance’ between impulse and action
  • Avoid multiple UI layers – strive for continuity
  • Accommodate both customer needs and business objectives

    Options for customising the UI…

  • Open OS – Windows Mobile, Symbian – add to existing UI, deploy at any time, small market
  • Closed OS – J2ME – Deep in handset menus, deploy at any time, user can’t find it
  • Custom Built – RTOS – Full control over UI, must be done ar point of manufacture, costly, slow to market, risky – can’t be changed

    The handset UI is the primary means to cultivate the customer relationship.

  • Update of UI must be relevant, unobtrusive and instantly accessible
  • User must feel they remain in control
  • Users should know how much they will be charged
  • Integration with existing channels can raise perceived value

    Lars Becker, Chief Operating Officer, Player X, described the issues involved with content partnerships.


  • Geography. e.g. Video market is more local than games market.
  • Approach. Supermarket approach, champion approach
  • Target audience. What brands/content are important to them? (video, games or music)
  • What sub categories? e.g. casual games, retro games, gamers’ games (console titles)
  • How to go about? Direct with licensor? Through publishers and intermediaries
  • Licensing deals vary widely. Consider/compare minimum guarantees and upfront payments.
  • Marketing support
  • Can content be used across different catagories (music, video)

    Good content tends to be…

  • Recognised brand
  • Works well on phones
  • Different
  • Wide appeal
  • Global license

    Peter Baldwin, CEO, MSX, talked about MVNO differentaion.

    What is a key differentiation? What are the critical services? What are typical vertical solutions?

    Areas of Vertical Mobile Data Services…

  • Homepage personalisation
  • Entertainment
  • Social Networking
  • Advertising supported
  • Phonetop storefront
  • Integrated services

    Other vertical areas include gambling and seniors.

    Factors in choosing an operator partner include…

  • Coverage and data support
  • Operator device support – certification
  • International support
  • Friend or foe – good partner or competitor
  • Recommendations – wants to enable your brand rather than their own brand

    Device considerations include…

  • Pricing, subsidies
  • How important is OEM brand
  • Customisations. design, keyboard, custom electronics
  • Built in services

    Custom Phones take too long to produce and are generally too expensive. However this is improving with ODMs now supplying 100,000 units. Software customisation is limited by device capabilities (WAP, J2ME, Symbian, Windows Mobile). Server infrastructure issues include billing, CRM and Data services (ASPs).

    Doug McCullum, Managing Director, Olista, talked about service adoption management.

    There is currently a shortfall between users registered for data services and those using them. Many users try new services over time but give up because it doesn’t work. There’s a huge gap between customer awareness and subsequent ‘addiction’. An adoption stage is missing. Users’ problems go unnoticed. There are almost no calls to customer care. Problems are found too late.

    Service adoption management is proactive monitoring to detect and eliminate problems, perhaps even performing proactive customer care.

    Points from the panel/discussion…

  • Where are the real (existing) media companies (now)?
  • Operators are currently reducing content teams and concentrating on core competencies (network voice/data) – they have realised that they are not media companies.
  • You don’t have to be a MVNO to be a media company in the mobile space.

    Extracted from our 32 page report on the MEX conference, which includes complete coverage of all the event’s sessions as well as access to the presentations. The report is available for purchase for GBP 395 + VAT at

  • No related posts.

    + There are no comments

    Add yours