Our previous MVNO article turned out to be quite popular. In a world of uncertainty, people prefer lightweight pivots and neatly targeted audiences, which the MVNO business model readily provides. We also discovered that many of you want to launch an MVNO, and to do it fast. This “fast launching” philosophy can go two ways. You could build an agile system for business experiments and ultimately figure out your market niche. Or, you could create a “crap conveyor” that will waste investor money and produce dubious outcomes.
Today’s story explains the PortaOne vision for how to launch an MVNO fast. Spoiler: it requires rapid prototyping, automation, sacrificing excessive customization and a few of the “bells and whistles,” and relying on external expertise. (And, of course, it takes you in down the first, best path for fast launching.) Plus, our Add-on Mart might be another helpful feature. Because, with Add-on Mart, you might just discover that someone else has already implemented one of your ideas (and can license to you the solution so you can launch your MVNO even faster). Readers eager to see the immediate practical steps might find this checklist helpful.
Apply Rapid Prototyping
When discussing techniques to become a more confident coder, John Ousterhout, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, recommends “making continual small investments” while writing your code. As someone who may not be a coder but who is a writer (some find persuasive writing no less complex than writing code), the author of these lines agrees with Mr. Ousterhout. Minor improvements with thoughtful analysis of their role in the overall success is the fastest way to get your product where you want it to be.
David Kelley’s design firm IDEO created Apple’s “one button” mouse. Interestingly, the key engineer behind the project was Jim Yurchenco. In his video interview, Jim recommends that you “don’t accept ’done’ for ’good’ and don’t accept ’good’ for ’excellent.’” Nevertheless, he admits that “failure in itself isn’t good, but being willing to fail is.”
With an MVNO, you are more likely to experiment and fine-tune your target audience and product setup: pricing, bundles, discounts, consumption buckets, service types, or time of the day. Mobile Conclusions, a digital consulting firm from the UK, presented two compelling cases of their MVNO clients that are worth reviewing. If you want to achieve a similar outcome, use tools like Figma or InVision.
Rapid ≠ Hasty
When prototyping and launching your MVNO – along with its target audience, product setup, website, mobile apps, and even marketing communications – it’s crucial to perform thorough research and analysis. The research will help you figure out “the magic bullet” fast. Likewise, looking at the target persona, customer interviews, and your own prototype’s live testing will help you improve the next iteration. In other words: invest most of your time in the period before creating the prototype and after gathering customer feedback.
Use the Public Cloud to Launch Your MVNO
Develop business models, not code. That way, you will fail (or succeed!) fast. Leave the server procurement, cabling, installation, and maintenance to companies like Oracle, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. And, ta-da! Your need to go to the data center and wear earplugs is gone.
Leave the technology stack to us at PortaOne. You will still have the chance to create your product (and hence gain a competitive advantage). However, when you do it this way, that work will happen mostly with low-code and only after you are 100% sure of your target audience and the feature set it needs.
To launch your cloud BSS, we use Terraform (see the Alkira case study — it’s unrelated to PortaOne, yet still inspiring). And when the necessary computing resources and storage are available, we use our Configurator to quickly put together hundreds of software components and make them work as a team. These components include a database, Apache, or an interface to accept charging requests from the mobile core via the Diameter protocol. This approach allows for a fast rollout and makes the deployment of your MVNO potentially cloud-agnostic. (Although, as of summer 2022, we run in Oracle Cloud and have not made plans to migrate to GCP or AWS.)
Sacrifice Excessive Customization
Each extra feature costs tens or even hundreds of thousands to develop. Add to that a ton of precious time for testing and analysis of customer feedback and you could quickly bury half a million dollars (including the opportunity cost) on customizing a feature. Then, you might just find out that you don’t really need it right now. So, pick only what is essential for your product and the market fit. Leave out all the rest.
How do you simplify your products? You do it by sacrificing. Specifically, you should sacrifice:
- Any unnecessary charging elements or complex quotas/discount plans. But take note! We are not urging you to give up charging as a whole. (Because then how would you plan to earn money with your project?) Instead, we recommend sacrificing some of the bells and whistles that will prevent you from launching fast and that are not essential to your value proposition.
- Any features that are too complex to explain to your customers or that will not be crucial to anyone’s decision to buy your service.
Case Study: The Quota Rollovers (Based on a True Story)
Let’s say you have an idea that you want to offer quota rollovers for twelve months. So, if a plan gives a customer 1GB of data and they only used 600MB in June, they will have an opportunity to use the remaining 400MB any time until June of the next year.
Now let’s say that, unfortunately, your system cannot do this. However, it could roll the quota over for three months. What are your options? You have three:
- Raise a change request from your vendor to adjust it to twelve months. Then delay your launch.
- Be creative and build some alternatives using existing tools. Allow a three-month rollover of unused data. Then, after three months, a standalone script (or low-code workflow) can transfer all (or perhaps just half) of the remaining quota into a separate “service wallet.” This quota does not expire. The customer can still use it.
- Decide that you want to launch the MVNO fast and simply ditch the idea altogether. Instead, adapt your product to what is feasible. In this case, that would be the three-month quota rollover.
If your product is complicated and you need to explain six virtual buckets full of various promotions and quota leftovers from previous months to your user, it could lead to failure. (Remember, this is a real-life example from one of our customers!) So, there are probably better alternatives — that are available right out of the box.
Use “Lego Blocks” to Launch Your MVNO
We usually read product specifications and shed tears. 😂 The people who write them seem to think they are launching a spacecraft, not an MVNO business on top of existing telecom infrastructure. To launch an MVNO, you need basic charging, invoicing, CRM (hello, HubSpot or Salesforce), and integration with MNO provisioning or order management. That’s all. So, keeping number portability (MNP) and a self-care portal in perspective is wise.
So, to launch your MVNO fast, we recommend using solutions that already exist. Then, simply adapt your business model to those solutions (not vice versa).
Use External Expertise
A popular joke among psychiatrists is that they started earlier (than their clients). When planning to launch an MVNO, make sure to rely on the people who have already made their mistakes. And successes! The only expertise that should be yours alone is understanding the product/market fit for your specific target audience and and target market. For everything else? Outsource it to the maximum possible.
Case Study: Invest in the Discovery Phase
Malawi Telecoms (MTL) is an MNO from Malawi 🇲🇼 — an African nation with a population the size of Romania or Chile. MTL offers fixed telephony, SIP trunks, a data center, and hosted services. In 2021, MTL conducted a discovery phase for their 4G/LTE launch.
MTL is a good case study because, in our work with them, we helped launch an MNO that is designed to support other business as they launch their various new MVNOs. It’s always a pleasure to help launch an ecosystem enabler.
What did PortaOne do for MTL? We helped them create this ecosystem in three ways:
- We analyzed MTL’s business processes and product definitions.
- We enabled the configuration of MTL’s product line, reps and commission plans, vouchers, notifications, and customer classes.
- Finally, we assisted with the rollout and testing.
Online v. Offline Charging When Launching an MVNO
Billing your customers post-factum based on usage records delivered to you in some weird format is very similar to using yellow sticky notes stuck to your monitor as a task management system. Yes, while much better alternatives now exist, people still tend to use this process way more than they should. The only real driving force for the adoption of task tracking tools (like Youtrack or ClickUp, which we use at PortaOne) seems to be that the proliferation of laptops has left no space to glue those sticky notes. 😂
True, we all know that offline “integration” via “billing CDRs” is a pain. But, when you look at history, offline was the dawn of telecommunications. Remember those good old days when you went on vacation with your family to Türkiye, Egypt, or Thailand? If you were like many, by day 9 or 10 of your trip you were suddenly hit with work anxiety. So, you opened your laptop on the beach and tethered it to your business cell phone… And then, a month after that vacation, an accountant at your workplace invited you in for a conversation about the need for you to sell your right kidney to cover the roaming bill.
Woes and Shortcomings of Offline Charging When Launching an MVNO
From the POV of a business that plans to launch an MVNO with offline charging, there are a number of such woes:
- It is time-delayed.
- It requires the support of customized formats (hello, Unicode, and eleven types of other custom CSV files).
- It does not deliver a good customer experience (remember that vacation kidney).
- The revenue assurance flows may be problematic (usually, telcos won’t require your kidney for the roaming – unless they are from Russia – yet someone always has to pay).
How Does Online Charging Measure Up to MVNOs?
Now, we will try to explain several decades of telecom charging evolution in a single paragraph. 😉 A long time ago, charging in mobile networks was offline — via files (hello again, dear CSV format). Soon, various proprietary protocols appeared: Diameter, Radius, CAMEL. They helped organize online prepaid billing on mobile networks. Then, with the advent of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the gang into the VoIP domain, Radius-Diameter stood no chance against the conventional HTTPS-based APIs brought to us by 3GPP with 5G standards.
At PortaOne, our philosophy is to get rid of as many scary and obsolete telecom acronyms as we can. We want to make sure that our customers can hire general-purpose developers from the market. We would also like to spare developers from the need to get an advanced degree in telecommunications before they start to write code for MVNOs. Online charging (when done smartly) allows for all that.
Automation to the Rescue!
Service provisioning is mostly about writing scripts that organize data flows. You then account for those data flows through various servers and databases. The better you automate, the more resources (and money) you save. That’s where our low/no-code approach really shines.
During launch, a given MVNO is usually an early-stage startup: a new independent venture or a venture-like unit within an established business. Being an early-stage startup often means two things:
- The team for the MVNO is small.
- The business development team is ready to do the coding. Or, at least, to perform the code review and own the product in the scrum teams.
Low-code and VAS
Initially, to launch an MVNO, you might limit your reliance on the low/no-code solution to the service provisioning. However, with time (and, if you are successful, that time will come faster than you expect), you might need to spice your MVNO offer up with various VASes. Low-code lets your business team play with those VASes fast, and pick those that offer the best product/market fit.
Rapid Prototyping ❤️Low-code
Now, let’s go back to what we talked about at the very beginning of this story. Low-code enables efficient CI/CD flow (continuous integration and delivery) and rapid prototyping. Or, instead, it is a logical extension of rapid prototyping and the precondition for cost-efficient CI/CD. Still, low-code is not a cure-all for everything.
What Should Not Be Automated?
Another side of the story is that, when launching an MVNO, you should not automate every bit of code from day one — even if you are using light approaches, such as low-code. Here’s our general advice: automate only the things that cut your need for resources. For example, customers can do MNP manually. If your assessed monthly MNP volume for the first so-many months after launch is ten migrations, why waste precious resources on that?
Case Study: Nordic Manually Activated SIMs (Again, Based on a True Story)
Nevertheless, things like SIM card activation and service provisioning should be automated. In the 2010s, we found out that a client from Scandinavia had activated their SIMs manually through the phone. They could still sell the service and grow their customer base even without automation. When an MNO with provisioning API appeared years later, they quickly signed an agreement with Telenor and moved their subscriber base there. While this Nordic approach might seem shocking, sometimes things just work. 😂
Launched an MVNO? Now Make It Work (and Earn)
Your launch is just the beginning of a long journey. In an excellent (yet dated… 2014) analysis, McKinsey highlights customer experience level and MNO/MVNE contract details as the critical success factors after the launch of an MVNO. That’s logical: keep your customers happy, because doing that will help your business grow. Then, once you grow, you can request better terms from your MNO/MVNE.
PortaOne is here to help you after your launch. Our Add-on Mart will help you improve your UX and differentiate 🌶 your offering from the competition.
Do Things Your MNO Can’t! A Case Study from South Africa 🇿🇦
Our clients in South Africa work with an MNO that sells content-based charging packages. Their end users can order YouTube or TikTok separately… for example, they order the YouTube package for a monthly fee of “x” and the TikTok package for a monthly fee of “y”.
We noticed that, with the flexibility of PortaBilling, you could combine these two packages. For example, you could offer 5GB of TikTok + YouTube for “z” per month. Our South African MVNO clients can do this instantly, while it takes the “mothership MNO” ages to configure this same offering via their PCRF/DPI/PGW/OCS (add your favorite scary telecom acronym here).
In a world where everybody launches, building a long-term sustainable partnership with PortaOne might be your hidden secret for surviving from launch into profitability. Contact our customer onboarding team now to discover more details.