Virgin Mobile Latin America (VMLA) expects to launch mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) in Colombia and Brazil over the next 18 months, according to Jeffery Buckwalter, VMLA’s senior vice president for business development, speaking at this week’s MVNO Industry Summit Latam (chek all stories).
The company has been working throughout the region in cooperation with local partners, regulators and mobile network operators (MNOs). Last April, VMLA launched operations in Chile. Colombia is set to be its second market, and the launch might happen this year, while Brazil is expected to be third, with a VMLA launch by 2013. Virgin Mobile’s experience in Chile will be valuable as the company’s focus moves on to launches in Brazil and Colombia.
“Colombia is in place, and we are at the advanced discussion stage in Brazil. The challenges are that we still have several pieces to put in place. In Brazil, we cannot apply for a license [at Anatel] until we have an operator,” Buckwalter told RCR Wireless News.
In both Chile and Colombia, Virgin Mobile has signed MNO agreements with Telefónica’s Movistar, but there is no MNO yet for the Brazilian market. VMLA is holding independent conversations in each country, and in Brazil, the company is in talks with the four major operators. Of the four, TIM has the most experience in getting agreements completed, as it already has three MVNO agreements with Porto Seguro, Datora and Sisteer.
When asked if VMLA could follow its MNO agreements in Chile and Colombia and close the deal with Telefónica’s Vivo, Buckwalter answered that having the same MNO would have some benefits but also raises some concerns. “We are very happy in Chile and in Colombia, but the question is how much influence would Telefónica have over us.”
In total, Virgin Mobile plans to launch MVNOs across eight Latam markets, offering products and services to approximately 450 million consumers. The global Virgin brand currently has more than 15 million customers worldwide.
When asked how Virgin Mobile Latin America would differentiate itself among current players, Buckwalter said that VMLA has focused on the youth segment with prepaid plans and strong data services. “Voice is a commodity. Data is where the future is,” he explained.
In Chile, Virgin Mobile had a prepaid, data centric approach with an irreverent, bold brand aimed at young customers.
Branding is still a challenge since Virgin is not well known is several Latam countries. “We are making significant investments to enhance our brand awareness. There is no short cut,” Buckwalter said, adding that Mexico might be the country where the Virgin brand is the most recognized in the region. “We will have to invest more where Virgin is not known,” he said.
VMLA’s launch plan includes hiring local teams to build and manage operations because as Buckwalter said, “they are the ones who understand the market.”