Paris Hilton, Helio and MVNOs


CTIA, Los Angeles: Well CTIA, you really couldn’t resist that last day Paris Hilton cameo – she was on stage for about 3 seconds to support her latest music video on cell phones before a mobile social networking panel, and now wireless geeks at the show will have months of starstruck memories and stories to tell (too bad that includes me too).

Anyway, Paris showed off her phone just before a panel including Helio’s CEO Sky Dayton, Digital Chocolate’s CEO Trip Hawkins and Virgin Mobile USA CEO Daniel Schulman. (Now talk about a hard act to follow!)

Some of the more interesting discussion was over Helio, which Sky Dayton said 25% of its revenues are from data services, and 1/3 of the game downloads are through the company’s sharing service of “gifting” and “begging.” Of course Dayton didn’t comment on how many subscribers the new MVNO has after its few months on the market, but 25% of nothing is still nothing. Well, some analysts speculate that Helio has around 10,000.

Conveniently Dayton and Virgin Mobile USA’s Schulman tried to convey that this is the end of the MVNO hype cycle. “The window is closed,” Dayton put it. Well that’s a convenient remark. Virgin has already made its mark. For Helio we’re still waiting.


Ol' Yeller

“No way they give up that much control of their customer.”

Apple will still own the iTunes customer and will earn a healthy monthly fee on the voice/data wireless bill as well by taking a cut ala RIM or Danger. Apple will do what Apple does best, make great devices and run and bill for a great content platform. Then they can ultimately (agree they’ll start with one carrier) work for and with all carriers, which is a bigger win than being an MVNO on one network. People like the freedom to choose their carriers.

As for QoS… Consumers hardly ever blame their phone for bad reception – they blame their carrier.

SKT’s definitely in it for the long haul, but EarthLink can’t afford to be.

Where will Helio and Amp’d be when Apple comes out with its phone? Left holding the [empty] bag?


apple isn’t doing an mvno – they’re releasing an unlocked handset.

There’s no way Apple is giving away that much control of their brand, their user experience, and their QOS, to anyone.

Play it out, from opening the box and having to jump through configuration hoops, to having a gatekeeper (who needs to be paid) in the low margin mobile iTunes loop, to Apple being blamed for dropped calls. No way they give up that much control of their customer.

To paraphrase the old Sun ad, “The Phone is the Network”

dave v

Reason Helio will fail. Call their customer support line and you will see why. Once they have your money you are on your own.

mobile guy

apple isn’t doing an mvno – they’re releasing an unlocked handset. maybe tying up w/ a carrier at launch but nobody is leasing more time from operators in the near future. and both amp’d and helio have more subs than you think. although for helio it doesn’t matter as skt is in this for the long haul – if they get to 500k subs in two years that’ll be ok w/ skt. this is about the world of 2010, not 2006…

Erik Schwartz

3) Apple: Platform, technology, content, form factor, distribution, not an MVNO but a hardware /content play. BINGO!

… and as soon as Apple needs to lease space on a carrier what differentiates them from Amp’d or Helio?

If/when Apple comes out with a phone they will also become an MVNO.

'Ol Yeller

10k is generous for a Helio sub-count, but even 20k would be a terrible showing for $400M in announced funding and ~$100M spent. Prominent failures have posted more subs in the early going.

What will be interesting is to see how long SKT allows Dayton to run the show. Dayton, to say the least, wasn’t SKT’s first choice for CEO.

The window for mega-MVNOs is indeed closed:

1) No carrier wants to spend the time and energy required to support hyped-up offerings like Helio and Amp’d that sport a combined 25k users

2) What parent company or investor will fund another MVNO that doesn’t already own or control its own distribution channel?

3) Apple: Platform, technology, content, form factor, distribution, not an MVNO but a hardware /content play. BINGO!

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