Thailand has experienced a slew of mergers between large Communication Service Providers (CSPs) in the recent years. As a result, in January 2024, Thailand’s telecoms regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), announced several policies that are intended to increase the number of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) operating in the country. This ABI Insight takes a look at the growth potential for MVNOs and possible strategies that MVNOs should employ in order to succeed in a highly competitive telecoms market.
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Establishing New MVNOs: Thailand's Approach to Revitalizing the Telecoms Market
In January 2024, Thailand’s telecoms regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), announced several policies that are intended to increase the number of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) operating in the country. The overall scheme, named “One Region, One MVNO,” intends to establish at least four more MVNOs by 2026, with a minimum of one MVNO in each of Thailand’s four regions. Other policies supporting the establishment of MVNOs include the government’s requirement for Communication Service Providers (CSPs) to reserve a portion of their network capacity for MVNOs.
Competition in the Thai telecoms space is widely regarded to be an oligopoly and is dominated by three main players: True Corporation, Advanced Info Service (AIS), and National Telecom (NT). This is a result of two major consolidations that happened in the past few years, with Thailand’s state telecoms TOT Public Company Limited (TOT) and CAT Telecom (CAT) merging into NT in early 2021, and a high-profile merger between True Corporation (True) and Total Access Communication PLC (DTAC) in late 2022 (see ABI Insight “The Looming Merger between Two of Thailand’s Major Communication Service Providers Should Stimulate AIS to Lean into 5G). Competition in the country is also limited, with AIS and the newly formed “True” collectively serving more than 96% of Thai mobile subscribers. The government’s plan to introduce competition at this juncture, in the form of MVNOs, is a practical step to address the current lack of competition in the market.
The Case for MVNOs: Can They Really Make a Difference?
MVNOs, as virtual mobile operators, do not operate their own cellular networks, but instead lease airtime and data from CSPs. Typically, MVNOs will purchase voice talk times and/or data in bulk at wholesale prices and will, in turn, sell these to their customers at a slight markup. A key advantage for MVNOs is that they do not own and operate network infrastructure, so Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) and Operating Expenditure (OPEX) for starting up and running an MVNO is significantly lower than traditional CSPs. However, at the same time, MVNOs are also heavily reliant on the services of their “host” CSP and given the general difficulty of switching from one CSP to another, remain vulnerable to sudden price changes imposed by CSPs.
Although the concept of MVNOs is not new—the world’s first MVNO was launched back in 1999—early strategies of MVNOs have typically been based on offering lower-cost services to their customers. However, as seen in the case of Singapore, such strategies have often backfired and resulted in industry-wide price wars, which is beneficial to consumers, but detrimental to the industry at large. Since then, the strategies employed by MVNOs have shifted away from purely being “value” players to players that offer a range of differentiated services for their customers. For example, some common value-added services offered by MVNOs include special roaming arrangements, flexibility of data sharing, and collaborations/synergies with product offerings from other industries (e.g., finance, utilities, digital services, cloud, etc.).
As a result, the main selling point for MVNOs is no longer simply confined to the domain of connectivity pricing, but is increasingly pivoting to the extra value that they can provide to customers.
Selecting the Right BSS Solution, a Key Success Factor for MVNO Growth
Despite the benefits that MVNOs can bring—due to increased capital flexibility—industry estimates place the failure rate of MVNOs at an alarming high rate. This is mainly driven by strong reactionary pressure imposed by the incumbent CSPs, which, in turn, offer lower-cost plans to match the offerings of MVNOs—and the MVNOs’ inability to carve out a specific niche, brand, or Unique Selling Point (USP) for its services.
To this end, MVNOs need to employ the right strategies and deploy the right Business Support Systems (BSSs) to enable them to meet the needs of their client base. Various existing solutions, such as the Amdocs Digital Brands Suite, are available to help MVNOs meet their business requirements. Based on ABI Research’s scan of the BSS marketplace, we have identified some key and pertinent features that should be supported by a robust BSS solution:
- Efficient Time-to-Service: The BSS solution needs to support an intuitive Graphics User Interface (GUI) that supports simple and quick deployment of new services to meet the changing requirements of customers.
- Data Analytics: The BSS platform should provide a full suite of analytics functions to analyze customer activity in detail to identify high-performing services and inform future business decisions.
- Effective Customer Support: The BSS platform should support simplified and accelerated customer support by quickly or proactively identifying customer issues and resolving them in an expedient manner. The customer engagement interface should also be made simpler and more accessible.
- Strong Partner Ecosystem: The BSS solution should support a strong ecosystem of partners that can help provide value-added services not only to customers (e.g., integration with payment or digital services, etc.), but also to MVNOs (e.g., advanced analytics features, digital marketing tools, etc.).
- Simplified Operations: Lastly, the BSS platform should simplify operational processes, thereby helping MVNOs focus on their key objectives in bringing innovative solutions to their customers.
In conclusion, MVNOs compete in a highly competitive environment and will need to carve out their own niches in a short period of time. In order to achieve this, selecting the right BSS solution or platform is the first critical step that MVNOs have to seriously consider.