MVNO success examples are few and far between in the U.S. Several factors contribute to this mixed bag of success. One factor that plays a primary role is mobile device availability, or lack thereof. MVNO operators have limited access to the devices that are in most demand. Strategy Analytics has published a report suggesting that WiMAX may be a good fit for MVNOs, due in part to this handset issue.
The WiMAX ecosystem in the U.S. is pushing for open access, meaning any WiMAX enabled device should be able to access a WiMAX network. Intel, Samsung, and Motorola have committed to producing 50 million WiMAX devices by year end 2010. The availability of WiMAX devices at the retail level, free from carrier restriction, could put WiMAX devices in the hands of millions of consumers, of which many will be eager to connect to a WiMAX network. “A WiMAX MVNO could, in principle, let their customers use any WiMAX-certified device they wanted to,” says Ben Piper, Director of the Strategy Analytics Broadband Network Strategies service. WiMAX MNVOs may then have an advantage – potential customers who have their own equipment. Removing the hassle of handset availability and inventory is one that cellular MVNOs would welcome. A successful WiMAX MVNO model could empower many more carriers, especially landline carriers with few wireless assets, to successfully enter the wireless business and impact the competitive landscape significantly. Of course, this is all theory at this point. Currently, WiMAX devices are almost non-existent, and a clear WiMAX business model, never mind a WiMAX MVNO model, has yet to emerge. But this potential scenario will be worth watching as the competitive broadband wireless landscape continues to evolve.