Black+White mobile service breaks MVNO roadblock

First mobile-only virtual network operator debuts

Privately funded Black+White looks set to become the first Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) on Vodafone’s network to launch an actual service in New Zealand.

The launch comes roughly a week after TelstraClear announced that it has struck a deal to provide mobile service over Telecom’s CDMA 2000 1x EV-DO Rev A network.

MVNOs are common overseas but in New Zealand the market has been slow to develop. Last year, Orcon, Compass and MVN Enabler M2 of Australia announced they had signed deals with Vodafone to become MVNOs; Black+White is working through M2, taking advantage of the wholesale deal it negotiated with Vodafone, says CEO Johnathan Eele.

M2 will provide backend and billing for Black+White, which, according to Eele, won’t have to install any equipment itself.

Black+White is focusing solely on mobile and believes that not being a “smorgasboard provider”, as Eele terms it, with landline and DSL offerings, gives it a significant advantage in the market.

“Why would I want to start operating legacy technology?”, Eele asks, claiming that customers are taking more of a fixed-mobile substitution view rather than a converged one for telephone service.

Initially, Black+White is soft launching with a beta programme for around 100 users, similar to the one Orcon is running at the moment. Eele won’t say if there’s a time-limit on the beta, stating such a thing would defeat the purpose of the programme, which is to learn about customer needs and behaviour.

Eele is reluctant to reveal exact details about its services such as pricing and plans, saying only that the focus will be on voice and SMS, as well as email. The MVNO has installed a Microsoft Exchange 2007 email solution to support Windows Mobile devices, as well as others using ActiveSynch for message and calendaring synchronisation.

Computerworld understands that Black+White will be a “thin” MVNO that’ll use Vodafone’s plans, initially, and later on move to a “thick” model where it designs its own plans.

Eele says Black+White will sell its own branded handsets made by HTC, Nokia, Palm, Samsung and Motorola and that it will have full access to Vodafone’s 3G network, with HSDPA/HSPA. Furthermore, Eele claims Black+White customers will be able to roam in 120 countries overseas.

The telco will have its own 02885 number range but Eele expects the majority of customers to take advantage of number portability if and when they shift away from their existing providers.

“I hate the term ‘number portability’” Eele says, preferring to call it “keeping your own number”.

According to Eele, Black+White will be able to provision customers itself and deal with service requests immediately, rather than raising service tickets with Vodafone and/or M2.

Black+White is targeting customers who do not want to be tied up with long-term contracts, says Eele. He says the New Zealand market is unique with over 70% of customers being pre-paid.

This includes many small businesses who are probably paying over the odds for mobile telephony because they are unaware of cheaper alternatives.

Eele says Vodafone has been “incredibly good” to deal with. The mobile operator has been very good at keeping its distance, he says, as well as providing support when needed.

Eele spent three years with Telecom Mobile after coming to New Zealand from mobile operator 3 in the UK. He is backed by Mint Ventures Ltd, run by Eele and his wife, capital investment specialist Rebecca Thomas.

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