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Sprinting Ahead: Panorama Gives MVNO Market a New View

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May 07, 2014

Sprinting Ahead: Panorama Gives MVNO Market a New View

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

If you have been an industry observer of the U.S. mobility scene for any length of time, you are no doubt aware that while Sprint (News - Alert) maybe the No. 3 provider of retail mobile services, it has been the king of the hill when it comes to the wholesale side of things. It has for years differentiated itself by being open for business with leading mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs)—the industry term for wireless companies you hear advertising all the time about their special deals but who you know do not own and operate a physical network. It is the network for example of such popular prepaid services in the U.S. as Virgin Mobile (News - Alert) USA, Boost Mobile, and Assurance Wireless.

The MVNO market historically has been one where entrepreneurs, and the occasional established company, lured by the prospects of buying wholesale and being able to under-price the premium brands,  have gone into business under their unique brands and have not for the most part been tied to popular mass market retail brands.  However, with the announcement by Sprint Wholesale Solutions of Sprint PanoramaTM, all of that is possibly about to change.  

The value proposition is simple. With Sprint Panorama, the Sprint Wholesale Solutions sales team will enable any retailer looking to test the stickiness of its brand by extending mobility services as part of their portfolio of products and services to get in the market.  As Sprint says, the idea is to, “Assist brands by addressing their wireless objectives enabling them to seize new opportunities, differentiate and grow through mobility.”

The differentiated value being offered by Sprint is its well-established expertise in enabling MVNOs. They know what works and what does not, particularly as the fast-changing market has meant that just providing mobile access and a catalog of devices is no longer a path to likely market success.

Image via Shutterstock

While research says there is a global appetite for MVNO services, which are rising at a predicted 10 percent annual growth rate, the face of the opportunities is changing as a result of the growth of things like location-based services, and Sprint is looking to cash-in on this trend. In fact, Sprint Panorama is designed to focus on close collaboration with retailers, offering greater industry insights and strategic account plans that can extend the value of wireless to their customers beyond merely offering access to the network and devices and generate increased brand loyalty.

This is a good illustration of the general industry trend that ICT in particular is evolving toward where ecosystems are created that are so comprehensive they give customers lots of reasons to find, stay, engage and hopefully transact, and little reason to look elsewhere. Google, Apple (News - Alert) and Facebook are the poster children for what I have described in the past as the “Hotel California Effect” (derived from the words of the popular hit by the rock band The Eagles, whose lyrics include, “You can check out any time you want but you can never leave.”

Sprint is looking for interest from big box stores like Walmart and Costco and popular retailers with either national footprints or certainly aspirations in that direction as potential customers. After all, having a branded smartphone or tablet that can go on one bill from a merchant with whom you do business could prove very attractive to a possibly large part of the population who would appreciate the convenience of a simplified transactional environment. They also would probably appreciate the special treatment they would receive because of their loyalty, which is why financial services companies are another area for Sprint to mine. 

Sprint in launching Panorama sites one retail customer as seeing a 19 percent increase in store visits while those customers spent 35 percent more money while in-store.

“Providing network access alone to our MVNO customers and turning them loose on the market isn’t going to cut it in today’s competitive wireless landscape,” said Karen Freitag, vice president - Global Sales: Wholesale & International at Sprint. “With years of expertise and proven success in enabling MVNOs, Sprint has the vision and ability to diagnose the most difficult wireless challenges for brands and turn them into a winning financial opportunity.”

The Panorama View

Here are a few useful things Sprint is touting about the Panorama structure. They include:

  • Insights – Through the use of data and Sprint’s vast industry knowledge, customers have a plotted course for achieving the right solution. Utilizing procured research, big data, training and the Innovation Lab, Sprint Wholesale Solutions can open up a new set of opportunities that brands may not have ever imagined possible.
  • Connections – Sprint Wholesale Solutions has the experience and an array of connection services that can lead to increased mobility, including wireless, wireline, global networks, metered usage, hardware and programs.
  • Innovation – Bringing real-world value-added custom solutions to life such as mobile data, mobile functionality, mobile commerce, mobile to-go, interfaces framework and connected life, Sprint can help brands drive additional revenue or reduce costs, and aid in deeper customer relationships.
  • Support – Sprint can assist brands embarking on their wireless endeavor by offering go-to-market solutions, a dedicated account team, proactive product innovation, business-building programs and marketing support.

“Sprint Panorama brings wholesale connectivity to brands that want to enhance their customers’ experiences,” said Paris Burstyn, senior analyst - Wholesale Telecoms at Ovum (News - Alert). “The addition of a wireless offering will expose businesses to new opportunities that can lead to new revenue streams and greater customer loyalty.”

Certainly as our smart devices become our Swiss Army knives for interacting and are evolving into our transactional platforms of choice for both in-store as well as remote purchases, leveraging both location driven rewards as well as real-time the access to information on the web, the allure of a company branded mobile offering is going to be enticing. 

However, enticing does not mean easy. There are risks as well as rewards in doing this, and the voice of the customer can be heard very clearly when things go wrong. The throat they are going to want to choke is going to be the one whose name is on the device and the bill. Sprint is banking heavily on the fact that because of its history and knowledge that it can be a trusted fast mover in going after this opportunity. 

The panorama of the mobile industry landscape in the U.S. is undergoing dynamic changes due to new data plans, business models and major industry restructurings. How much this new initiative from Sprint will impact this landscape is an open question, but you have to like the fact that they realize the value of their under-lying network and are seeking as many ways as possible to maximize its revenue potential. We shall see what the view looks like in the next several quarters as possible Panorama customers surface and seek to extend their brands by taking a mobile route.   

Edited by Alisen Downey

Technology Marketing Corporation

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