MVNO celebrates its latest milestone as network operators look to sub-brands for growth

Simyo on Wednesday revealed that it has reached the 1 million customers milestone in Spain, an announcement that serves as a reminder of the importance of second brands to major mobile network operators in a market that remains fiercely competitive.

To mark, and indeed promote, its 1 million customers, Simyo is offering 1GB of free data to its whole customer base; users have until 22 October to claim it.

Simyo operates as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), but has been part of the Orange family since it was acquired by Orange Spain from KPN almost six years ago. It therefore effectively serves a sub-brand for the network operator, targeting the value end of the market.

Orange served as a catalyst for change in Spain in 2015 when it acquired broadband operator Jazztel and subsequently sold some of its assets to Masmovil, at the same time agreeing to provide wholesale fixed network access to the latter. Masmovil went on to buy mobile assets, including network operator Yoigo, and established itself as an integrated operator.

Orange’s relationship with Masmovil "created a very credible fourth player in the marketplace, in the value segment," noted Vodafone’s CEO-elect Nick Read, speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia event late last week.

That shifted the market and as a result "we have to reposition our business," he admitted; Spain is one of the European markets currently weighing on Vodafone’s numbers.

One way Vodafone can achieve that is by using its own low-cost Spanish brand Lowi to compete with Masmovil, Read said.

In June Spain’s MVNOs – some, but not all, of which are owned by the network operators – together accounted for 16% of net mobile customer additions, compared with the 20% and 18% netted by Telefonica’s Movistar and Orange respectively, according to figures released by regulatory body the CNMC last week. Vodafone claimed just 4% of net adds, while Masmovil was well ahead with 42%.

The MVNOs now claim a market share of 8.6%, with Masmovil on 10.% and the big three ranging from Vodafone on 23.3% and Movistar on 30%, with Orange in between at 26.3%.