Yesterday, the Internet was aflutter with a tantalizing report claiming that Apple was actively exploring becoming an MVNO. In such a scenario, Apple would lease spectrum from established carriers and then sell it directly to consumers. In short, the report seemed to indicate that Apple was on a path towards becoming a wireless carrier, an admittedly wild idea that wasn’t completely out of this world given Google’s own MVNO initiative.
You don’t have to pay nearly as much as you’re likely paying now for cell phone service. Increasingly, cheaper cell phone plans are available through what are called “mobile virtual network operators,” or MVNOs. These MVNOs rent space from the major networks instead of building their own. MVNOs are increasingly popular; there are now more than 120 MVNOs with a combined 30 million customers. An example of just one company that is making real headway: Consumer Cellular, an MVNO that uses AT&T’s network, has increased its customer base from 400,000 to 1.3 million over the past four years. More →
Republic Wireless, a Sprint MVNO that launched in November, announced late last week that it is ditching its “fair use threshold” and is now offering a truly unlimited talk, text and data plan for $19 a month. When the carrier first made its debut, it advertised “unlimited data” but said it reserved the right to kick customers off of its network if they abused the unlimited data offering and exceeded the usage outlined in its fair use policy. “Some of your feedback about our CUI concept and fair use thresholds ranged from confusion to extreme criticism, with a wide variety of thoughts and suggestions in between,” Republic Wireless’s general manager Brian Dally said in a company blog post. “Some judged our marketing to be ‘deceptive.’ Others felt our concepts were just too complicated, and unnecessary to expose to end users.” He continued, “Rather than revising our fair use policy, we’ve decided not to have one at all. There will simply be no thresholds, and no risk of losing service.” There is still one caveat, however: Republic Wireless is currently offering its “unlimited data” plan with a beta label and it will re-evaluate whether or not to continue offering unlimited data at the end of the beta. Republic Wireless routes its customers’s data over Wi-Fi networks and only uses Sprint’s 3G network when Wi-Fi isn’t available. More →
Republic Wireless went live on Tuesday with its impossibly cheap $19 unlimited talk, text and data plan, presenting a service that could potentially save some users a tremendous amount of money each month. “Newsflash: anything a cell network can do, the Internet can do better and cheaper,” Republic Wireless touts on its website. “So we think a truly smart smartphone should make a habit of using Wi–Fi for everything. Surfing. Texting. Sharing. And, yes, even talking.” Read on for more. More →
Google may be preparing to take its mobile efforts to the next level as it tests a Google-branded MVNO in Spain. Unconfirmed reports accompanied by photos of a Google SIM card and a Nexus S running on a “Google_Es” network suggest that Google is toying with the idea of becoming a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, or a company that provides cellular service by leasing capacity from existing wireless carriers and piggybacking on their networks. The photos suggest that testing is in the late stages as Google has already printed branded SIM cards, which have reportedly been delivered to Google Spain employees for testing. Additional details are scarce for the time being, but a Google-branded MVNO with deep Google Voice integration and a portfolio of Android devices from its potential Motorola acquisition could give the tech giant unprecedented control over the user experience. There is currently no firm indication that Google is testing similar services in other markets. Additional images follow below.
UPDATE: Turns out this was a hoax pulled off by a site described by Engadget Spanish as a “Spaniard 4chan.” Full details can be found on the Engadget Spanish site. More →
HP on Monday unveiled a new service that will push the scope of its business wider still. The PC giant has just launched “DataPass,” a new prepaid nationwide cellular data service that will let HP add MVNO to its list of endeavors. The service will give owners of compatible HP laptops with embedded 3G connectivity (and other devices?) the option to purchase a variety of time-sensitive prepaid data packages that range from $5 for 75MB of data good for only five hours, to $30 for 1GB of data to be used within 30 days of purchase. Other options include $10 for 150MB to be used within three days, and $20 for 450MB to be used within two weeks. DataPass uses Sprint spectrum that HP licensed specifically for the service, so expect coverage to be in line with Sprint’s nationwide network. More →
At long last, the Helio Ocean 2 is now available online. Many will just chuckle and give this bubbly handset a pass (especially for those who gave up after waiting for so long), but for those few die-hard Helio fans left it’s better late than never. If you have been lusting after this device and were waiting for its official release, head on over to Helio’s website where you can grab one for $149 with a two-year contract. If you click on the little “lawyers note” where the phone is available for online ordering, it also mentions that this is a limited time offer only. We’re not sure exactly what they mean by that, but it’s a pretty good cue to get one soon. Is there anyone out there getting ready to pick one one of these “3G social networking powerhouses”?
After one long year of waiting in agony, excitement, disappointment, despair and lastly hope, it looks like the Helio Ocean 2 has finally materialized and it appears to be a sure thing now. The packaging looks very similar to the first Ocean, though it is now just called Ocean 2 given the Virgin Mobile acquisition of Helio. There’s no mistaking this for anything else as it looks very much like the original and exactly like all the leaked images from a few months back. Word seems to be pretty solid that this is coming on February 12, so we’re just days away from salvation. The second generation Ocean has an upgraded version of the Ultimate Inbox which now threads SMS messages and has Google Talk included. The browser now supports full HTML and with 2GB of internal storage, you won’t be aching for memory as often as you did with the first Ocean. Hit the read link for a full unboxing treatment.
Helio fans have had enough torment for the last year. First, there were rumors that the company was going to go completely bankrupt. Then there were mixed feelings about the MVNO being acquired by another MVNO – Virgin Mobile. To top it all off, die-hard Ocean lovers kept getting their hopes and dreams shot down every couple of months with news of the Ocean 2, only to have it never arrive. Well, we hate to put you on that rollercoaster of emotions but a pretty solid source put word out that Helio is planning to put out the Ocean 2 as early as next month. But with the iPhone, Bold, Curve 8900, Storm, Palm Pre, G1, and HTC Fuze, how well will the Ocean 2 keep up? Not many even know about the original Ocean let alone rumors of a second iteration coming out. As much as we loved the first Ocean, we’re afraid this might be too little too late – even for some of the biggest Helio fans. No word on pricing as of yet, but with the original Ocean’s $299, don’t expect anything too tempting.
When Nokia announced it would be withdrawing from Japan and starting a new MVNO, we weren’t sure what it had in mind. History shows that MVNOs typically aren’t very successful because of the small market for such operators (almost always being dwarfed by mega-carriers), but Nokia has really shocked us with this one. Their new venture is called Vertu Club, which is essentially further isolating an already lonesome market. This particular MVNO is, you guessed it, only going to carry Vertu handsets. The first Vertu store will be the Ginza Flagship store opening in February 2009, but since the MVNO won’t launch until the second quarter, customers will only be able to buy unlocked Vertu models when the store opens. When you think of an MVNO and the reputation it carries, and the fact that Nokia and NTT DoCoMo’s joint venture will operate on a premium membership basis, the Vertu Club almost seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Oh well, the exclusivity premise worked out great for Voce…
Finnish mobile manufacturer Nokia, in a pretty bold move, will make its way to Japan to start its own MVNO. We’re not quite sure what Nokia is thinking, given the lack of success of MVNOs in the past, but they will be piggy-backing off of NTT DoCoMo’s network next year. Unlike other MVNOs, however, Nokia will be offering up high-end devices in order to compete in Japan’s tough mobile market. The only device we’ve ever really liked to come from an MVNO is Helio’s Ocean by Pantech. Nokia may be the world’s largest handset manufacturer, but they hold only 1% of the market share in Japan. It’s going to be interesting to see how this one shapes up as Nokia faces some serious competition with the likes of Sharp and Matsushita dominating that market.
Despite the fact that the image above is a joke and that crazy wooden phone is not actually an IKEA handset, we are certainly not joking when we tell you that IKEA has just become the most recent addition to the MVNO game. The Swedish manufacturer / retailer let the cat out of the vacker yesterday when it announced plans to offer a new mobile phone service. Dubbed “Family Mobile”, the forthcoming service will run on the back of T-Mobile networks and will become officially available this Friday. Don’t get too excited now; IKEA is starting off slowly and will initially make the service available to Loyalty Card holders in the UK. It appears as though affordability and cost management will be the underlying themes and the only pricing information available at this point is 9p per minute for calls and 6p per text. Pricing is fixed regardless of time and day and so far all we know is that £10 prepaid cards will be available. IKEA employees who partake will also receive a bonus credit of £5 on their SIMs to start them off. Classy. So the next time you head out to your local UK IKEA for some Swedish meatballs and a $7 desk that will take no less than 36 hours to assemble, don’t forget to drop by the mobile counter and check out the goods.