Digitimes Research: MVNOs growing fast in Japan, may face mergers due to price competition

Hana Hu, DIGITIMES Research, Taipei

MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) services have seen fast growing demand in Japan mainly due to the government asking mobile telecom carriers to unlock SIM cards and stop offering zero-price smartphones bundled with 2-year contracts in a bid to enliven the market. However, MVNOs are likely to be under pressure from mergers due to price-cut competition, according to Digitimes Research.

All MVNOs in Japan had 47.17 million subscribers in total as of the end of March 2016 (the end of fiscal year 2015), including 5.394 million users of low-cost SIM cards sold or leased mostly independent of smartphones, Digitimes Research cited Japan-based MM Research Institute as indicating.

MVNOs' rates have average monthly fees standing at JPY2,072 (US$17.5), approximately one-third the monthly rates offered by the three major telecom carriers: NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and SoftBank. The lowest monthly rate SIM cards cost only JPY300.

The Japan government plans to allow MVNOs to introduce HLR (home location register) and HSS (home subscriber server) to enable them to manage SIM databases and provide in-house-developed services. However, the rolling out these features will cost JPY3-4 billion, which small MVNOs cannot afford, and therefore will not stay competitive.

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