MVNO – what is it, who manages it and how are mobile marketing campaigns affected?

MVNO stands for mobile virtual network operator. An MVNO uses the mobile network infrastructure provided by an operator like Cell C or MTN, but offers its own products and services. An MVNO does everything a mobile operator does, except running a network.  In a recent article posted on Business Insider Cell C’s 21 MVNOs have signed up over two million customers – and in its June 2020 financial results, the company reported an 18% revenue increase in this segment of the business. Its wholesale revenue contributed to 7% of its total revenue in the first half of 2020 – and MVNOs alone added revenue of R399 million for the period.

MVNOs that have entered the market in South Africa more recently (2020/2021) include PnP Mobile, the first MVNO to make use of MTN’s mobile network infrastructure and K’nect Mobile, belonging to the Shoprite group, who are managed by Cell C.

While MVNOs are able to provide added value to the consumer, brands running USSD and short code campaigns need to take into consideration the limitations that are associated with these MVNO subscriptions. To uncover the limitations we conducted a number of tests using an FNB Connect and PnP Mobile prepaid SIM.  The results of engagement attempts are included below.

Mobile marketing product/service FNB Connect PnP Mobile
Person-to-application SMS reply X
Person-to-application SMS reply (free) Yes, however if an SMS bundle exists
on the handset one unit is deducted
from the balance.
Standard rated short code X X
Premium short code X X
Reverse billed short code X
Standard rated USSD X
Premium rated USSD X
Reverse billed USSD X
Zero-rated USSD X

✔ – The MVNO subscriber was able to successfully engage with the product/service.
X – The MVNO subscriber’s attempt to engage with the product/service was not successful.

After uncovering the above it is clear that the limitations experienced differ not only among the different MVNOs but also across the different types of USSD and short code rate options available. Brands should also take note that campaigns with airtime and data rewards using external vendors will not be supported.  This means that airtime and data vouchers sent to these MVNO subscribers that originated from Cell C or MTN will fail and that only vouchers purchased from the MVNO will be supported.

For advice on how to learn more about the consumers that engage with your brand or to find out about alternative mobile marketing methods with little to no restrictions, contact us today!