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In 2012, I wrote about online smartphone retailer GSM Nation’s plans to launch a mobile virtual network operator, reselling T-Mobile’s voice, SMS and data services on the cheap. GSM Nation has finally launched that MVNO, albeit two years late.
The new carrier is called US Mobile, and the reason for the holdup was an emerging business opportunity, said Ahmed Khattak, GSM Nation’s founder and CEO. GSM Nation sells unlocked GSM phones, and the plan was for US Mobile to offer a service component for phone buyers who hadn’t yet selected a carrier. But before US Mobile got up and running, GSM Nation began fielding more and requests from other MVNOs to sell mobile phones and SIM cards on their behalf, Khattak said.
MVNOs like Solavei, Simple Mobile and RedPocket Mobile helped quintuple GSM Nation’s annual sales to $100 million annually, so GSM Nation put its own MVNO plans on hold. Today those partnerships appear to have fizzled. Solavei declared bankruptcy in May (though it hasn’t shut its doors and plans to relaunch later this year), while Simple was acquired by virtual carrier giant TracFone.
So GSM Nation has gone back to Plan A. But Khattak believes it’s better equipped to attack the MVNO market. “We learned a lot from our MVNO partners,” he said.
Khattak’s original plan was to focus on mid-range to heavy data users looking for a discount on the big carriers’ smartphone plans, but there are a lot of MVNOs tackling that market. Instead, US Mobile is targeting a much more budget-conscious demographic, one looking to pay less than $25 a month.
US Mobile offers a plan structure similar to that of Sprint MVNO Ting, allowing customers to build their own service plans by selecting incremental buckets of minutes, texts and megabytes. The carrier is also focusing on the foreign national population, selling cheap international minutes.
Still, I can’t help wondering if Khattak waited too long.
In the last two years a lot of new MVNOs have sprung up. Some are playing up specific kinds of data services, for instance ROK Mobile and its all-inclusive music streaming service. While others like Ultra Mobile are squarely targeting the same budget and international calling demographics as US Mobile.