Mon | Oct 16, 2017

OUR auctioning up to 12 mobile licences, targeting virtual operators

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The Office of Utilities Regulations (OUR) wants to issue up to 12 new mobile telecommunications licences this year.

It recently opened applications for these licences, although it didn't get any takers when it tried the same thing back in 2007. Currently, there are three licensed mobile service providers - Digicel; LIME, which is soon to be rebranded as Flow; and Traille Caribbean, which got its domestic mobile service provider licence in May 2013.

Bidders for the new licences will be required to meet ready-for-service dates after showing the proposed areas they plan to cover and how they plan to finance their operations.

But they won't need to roll out infrastructure because the regulator is targeting mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in the latest licence auction.

MVNOs are telecommunications companies that rent another mobile operator's infrastructure to provide services. For example, Virgin Mobile USA used Sprint Nextel's network up until its host bought it out in 2009.

The OUR has been trying to regulate MVNOs for some time now - at least since 2006 when it saw the emergence of a number of operators offering such services.

In his paper on telecommunications competition in Jamaica, the dean of University of Technology's business school Dr Paul Golding listed MegaPhone, World Phone, Peoples Telecom and Gotel Communications among those operators, which, by his estimate, had around 200,000 subscribers by 2007.

None of those companies was included among current licencees in a list published by the OUR last month.

REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

It still has the development of a regulatory framework for MVNOs as a strategic objective in its current corporate plan for the years 2015 to 2018.

"The introduction of MVNOs is seen as a natural progression in the facilitation of competition in the telecommunications sector," said the regulator's most recent plan. "Given that MVNOs tend to focus on niche markets, it is believed that valued-added niche services are better handled by these operators."

Among the issues that it planned to examine were: MVNO models, benefits, and the licensing, technical and regulatory implications of MVNO entry.

"This is the formulation of a system to outline how Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) will be regulated," the document continued. "This will address the rights and responsibilities of these virtual operators and their interactions with facilities-based operators."

Ultimately, the goal of the regulator is to increase the level of competition in the provision of the prescribed services and increased options for consumers.

"This should eventually lead to lower and more efficient prices," said the regulator.

It is hard to say whether the OUR has made any progress on developing the framework for MVNOs. The regulator has not published any such regulations to date.

business@gleanerjm.com