Each new generation of cellular technology spawns a new breed of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). Since GSM, that has been the case, and 5G is no exception.
Vendors and other types of companies in non-telecom industries such as agriculture, automotive, logistics and oil/gas own many of these next-gen MVNOs. They see mobile connectivity as a critical way to attract, retain and serve their customers — so critical they prefer the MVNO model because it enables them to work directly with their customers instead of through a mobile operator.
5G architecture enables this change, which provides more technological flexibility, and thus, more business-model flexibility. For example, by design, 5G supports network slicing, which an enterprise customer could use to create its own private network. So instead of owning and operating its own 5G RAN and core, the enterprise would use a dedicated virtual slice of a public network.
Today, most private 5G network discussions and deployments focus on the business model where the enterprise uses its slice strictly for internal applications, such as connecting autonomous vehicles and IoT devices at a seaport. But slicing also enables new types of MVNO business models.
Take the example of a vendor or systems integrator that serves a specific vertical, such as oil/gas, in multiple countries worldwide. It could use slices of public 5G networks to create a global MVNO that provides connectivity for the IoT sensors, controllers and other devices at its customers’ refineries, ports and pipelines.
The MVNO also could support fleet telematics for those customers’ trucks, a use case that would be complex for companies that want to own a core and RAN because they would need to deal with nuances such as interconnection with public networks. Instead, using the MVNO makes it easier for them to have private 5G connectivity not only at their facilities but everywhere in between, too.
Call in the experts
Mobile operators have a vested interest in supporting these industry-specific and specialist MVNOs. One major reason is that although mobile operators have brand recognition with companies such as oil/gas producers, agricultural equipment manufacturers and logistics/warehouse companies, they do not have deep, nuanced expertise in those industries. But the vendors, integrators and other specialists serving those sectors do.
Mobile operators that support these “specialist MVNOs” have a better chance of tapping new revenue streams in those verticals than operators that try to go it alone. Considering how much mobile operators will spend building out their 5G networks — over $510 billion through 2025, according to GSMA Intelligence’s The Mobile Economy 2022 report, plus even more on spectrum — they cannot afford to leave any stone unturned when it comes to monetizing those networks.
BSS flexibility is key for all ecosystem partners
Enabling MVNOs is a major way that mobile operators can play a prominent role in these new enterprise 5G ecosystems, where partnerships are key for the success of each member. For example, most of these greenfield MVNOs will not have telecom experience because they are specialists in other sectors, such as mining, construction and even hyperscale. So, they will not have the staff knowledge and infrastructure necessary to manage the business support systems and other fundamental mobile operations.
Mobile operators are uniquely qualified to provide all those enablers as a turnkey solution. This also enables the MVNO to reduce the time and expense of launching their service significantly.
But to play this value-added role, mobile operators must have a BSS that is flexible enough to support multiple MVNOs, each with its own unique set of business requirements. Instead, most operators have a rigid and complex BSS because it has been cobbled together over the decades using components from multiple vendors.
What they need is an MVNO-enabling (MVNE) platform: a modular, cloud-native, multi-tenant BSS that supports all the functions that MVNOs need, including activation, provisioning, and self-service options. Ideally, these functions should be as close to zero-touch or self-serve as possible to keep overhead costs low for the systems integrators, vendor specialists or whatever ecosystem partner will run the MVNO. For example, the MVNE platform should enable systems integrators or vendor specialists to provision new devices and rate plans without operator support.
Zero-touch also relates to roaming. For example, suppose that the partner is a manufacturer of farm equipment sold around the world. When a customer takes delivery of a new tractor, its embedded IoT device and eSIM should automatically find the right roaming partner and be provisioned with the right service plan.
Specialist MVNOs often provide additional services on top of connectivity, such as fleet management in the case of a truck manufacturer. Therefore, the MVNE platform should have an open architecture to make it easy for those MVNOs to bundle and manage those value-added services.
Scalability also is vital. For instance, if the partner wins a major refinery contract, it may need to provision thousands or tens of thousands of IoT devices quickly. To support that, the partner needs access to a MVNE platform with an intuitive management interface that can automate the process of onboarding devices in large batches.
If that sounds like a lot of capabilities, that is because it is. But that also highlights how much value a mobile operator can add to new enterprise 5G ecosystems. Investing in a MVNE BSS lays the foundation for that success.