First National Bank is poised to become the first South African financial services institution to launch a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). The bank is at an advanced stage of discussions with Cell C to launch the MVNO, two independent sources with knowledge of the plans have told TechCentral.
MVNOs leverage third-party operators’ network infrastructure to provide services to consumers under their own brands. The only MVNO to launch commercial services to date has been Virgin Mobile, which also piggybacks off Cell C’s network. Bigger operators MTN and Vodacom have been reluctant to open their networks to virtual operators.
FNB said it is not prepared to comment on the specific talks with Cell C, while the mobile operator declined to comment. However, it’s understood that a potential sticking point is concern by the bank about the quality of Cell C’s network.
The mobile operator has been criticised for network quality problems, especially in Gauteng, in the past year. It’s pumping hundreds of millions of rand into new infrastructure to cope with the growing demands on its network. It recently revealed that its subscriber base had swelled to more than 18m.
Cell C has begun actively marketing itself as an MVNO platform, with a number of companies apparently showing interest in using it to launch their own branded mobile services.
In response to a query from TechCentral, FNB corporate communications head Virginia Magapatona said the bank already has a telecommunications licence. As such, it is already able to provide voice and data services. “We also offer free calls via FNB Connect,” she said.
“As one of the largest bulk SMS users and airtime distributors, we have relationships with all mobile network operators and will continue to work closely with all parties,” Magapatona said.
“We continue to hold confidential discussions with various operators, and we will only be in a position to formally announce any new features or customer benefits once launched.”
Launching an MVNO may be the next logical step for FNB, which has positioned itself as a leader in mobile banking. It was the first retail bank to launch a transactional banking application for smartphones and it aggressively markets smartphones and tablets to its clients. – © 2014 NewsCentral Media