MVNOs Targeting Direct, Indirect Sales

By Joseph Palenchar On Jul 25 2005 - 6:00am




Cellular carriers are consolidating, but retailers will have as many or more wireless service brands to offer as they did in the pre-consolidation days if multiple MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) launch their own branded services as planned.

Amp'd Mobile of Alisa Viejo, Calif., for example, will launch its multimedia service and phones on November 15 through its own Web site and possibly on other Web sites, but one to two quarters later, it will offer its service through selected brick-and-mortar retailers, said chief marketing officer Dan McGuire. The company is also considering Amp'd-branded stores, although they might not be owned and operated by Amp'd, said the former Leap and Kyocera executive.

Disney Mobile's family-oriented service, slated for a 2006 launch, will also target indirect channels. “Our goal is to distribute across multiple channels where families shop for phones,” a spokeswoman said. Distribution will be broader than just Disney stores, she added.

As previously reported, MVNO SK EarthLink plans to leverage some of EarthLink's existing retail distribution to market phones and services, which the company plans to launch in early 2006. EarthLink will also sell the new phones and services online.

As for Chicago's Firefly Mobile, although not an MVNO in the classic sense, it has begun marketing its phone for 8- to 12-year-olds and its Firefly-branded prepaid service through Target. Firefly is also considering additional retail accounts. The prepaid service is also offered through the company's Web site and through small regional carriers, which offer the Firefly phone with prepaid and postpaid services under their own names, a FireFly spokeswoman said.

The Firefly phone is available nationwide at www.fireflymobile.com for $99.95, including 30 minutes of Firefly Mobile prepaid airtime. In July, the phone and Firefly-brand prepaid service became available through Target stores nationwide.

For its part, Amp'd Mobile is targeting 18- to 24-year-olds buying their second or third phone “and ready to do more than just talk,” said McGuire. “They're ready for convergence.” The company will use an existing carrier's CDMA 1x EV-DO network to deliver video at 30 frames per second to handsets that will double as camera/camcorders, feature MP3 players with stereo speakers, and offer push-to-talk service. The phones will play back music downloaded by PC from authorized Windows Media Audio (WMA) download sites, and they'll play subscription-based WMA downloads. They'll also play back MP3 files transferred from a PC and AAC+ files downloaded over the air.

Amp'd service, which won't use Sprint's network, will offer streaming or downloadable audio and video content, including TV and movie clips. It is building a studio in Los Angeles to edit branded content for playback on small screens, and it will build broadcast vehicles that will travel to events to record video from the events or stream the event live to handsets.

Amp'd will launch initially through its own Web site, McGuire explained, because “you can't launch a complex product at brick-and-mortar retailers.” Retail salespeople, he said “can't explain TiVo or Amp'd in 30 seconds.”

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