A fresh attempt is to be made to shake up the Macedonian mobile market through the introduction of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) and low pricing. National regulatory authority Agency for Electronic Communications (AEC) has confirmed that one new MVNO has started operating after it eased regulations governing the provision of such services and suspended price caps applicable to such operators. BMI believes the conditions are now right to support the launch of MVNOs in this saturated market, but counsel against excess investment in this field owing to the likelihood of low margins.
Kapital reports that Austria-based Mobile Connect Telecom registered with the AEC in August and had recently launched services. As yet, none of the country's three licensed mobile network operators - T-Mobile Macedonia, VIP and ONE - have revealed whether they are hosting the newcomer, but BMI thinks it most likely that VIP is the host network, as it is owned by Telekom Austria. The second-ranked company will be keen to use the MVNO to help it draw level with market leader T-Mobile. VIP has already proved itself willing to work with other service providers as it partners with Vodafone Group to support data and value-added service offerings, including a dedicated BlackBerry service.
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BMI believes Mobile Connect Telecom is the first MVNO to have launched services in Macedonia. However, it is not the first to have been authorised to operate in the country. In November 2010, the AEC assigned 100,000 numbers to WTI Macedonia to support a putative MVNO service. However, WTI appears to have been unable to reach a hosting agreement with any of the three network operators and there is no record of the company ever having launched. Assuming its authorisation is still valid, and assuming it still has an interest in doing so, WTI may now be encouraged to restart negotiations with the operators.
Variable growth is being recorded in the Macedonian mobile market, which served approximately 2.332mn subscribers as of Q213 according to BMI 's Mobile Operator Database. Although the three network operators continue to vie with one another over a very shallow pool of potential new customers, most of their efforts are focused on cannibalising each others' user bases. There has, so far, been relatively little movement on pricing or attention paid to the budget and 'no frills' end of the market, where MVNOs typically flourish.
Although little is known at present regarding the strategy of the new MVNO, we welcome its investment in Macedonia as it has the potential to shake up the marketplace. Kapital reports that Albafon is also looking to set up an MVNO business in the country, catering to ethnic Albanians living in Macedonia; such a venture should prove successful, although we doubt it will have as significant an impact on the market at large. While we await further details, we hold to our current forecast of 2.435mn mobile subscribers by the end of 2013, rising to 2.645mn by 2017. However, we fully expect to raise that outlook once the new MVNOs come on stream.