Virgin Mobile Wants Russian MVNO Deal

Virgin Mobile is in talks with Russian mobile operators over a possible MVNO launch, Richard Branson has told Reuters. The Virgin boss said that the firm was prepared to invest up to US$1 billion in a Russian mobile venture.

“[The MVNO model] has worked really well in other countries and we think it will work well in Russia,” Branson said. “We use their networks, and they use our brand.”

Russia’s cellular networks include:

Mobile operator licensing in Russia is under the control of Rospechat, the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of Russia.

Yota announced that it will cover the next 15 cities on its roll-out list with TD-LTE instead of WiMAX. Yota will spend $100 million to roll-out LTE in five Russian cities, with total investment estimated at up to $2 billion.

TD-LTE operators include Clearwire in the United States, Softbank in Japan, Mobility in Saudi Arabia, Yota in Russia, Vivid Wireless in Australia, Global Mobile in Taiwan, Packet One in Malaysia, China Mobile, and Bharti Airtel in India.

Clearwire owns nearly all the spectrum in the 2.5-2.6 GHz band and expects to use Time Division LTE on nearly all of it. Getting consumer devices in volume to support it is the trick. Clearwire hopes to get broad international approval and support for their approach, using TD-LTE though out the 190 MHz of the 2.6 GHz band, which they define as Band 41. Other countries, particularly in Europe, have divided the 2.6 GHz band into two chunks; one for Time Division (band 39) and one for Frequency Division (band 7).

According to reports last month, Virgin Mobile is looking to raise around US$100 million from investors to fund an expansion into as many as six new markets. It already has operations in nine countries, and has launched in two new markets already this year: Chile and Poland. Virgin Mobile USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sprint Nextel, and provides service to approximately 6 million customers.

Presumably, Virgin Mobile is simply looking for the best deal, and has no particular interest in one technology over another. Each Virgin Mobile branded entity acts independently from the others, thus the handsets, service plans and network radio interfaces vary from country to country.

Still, there is an evolving global ecosystem for 4G LTE, using the 1800 Mhz and 2.6 GHz bands, which may provide the best shot at global roaming and support from a variety of vendors. The iPhone 5, for example, is plagued by LTE roaming issues.

TD-LTE, for better or worse, cannot be ignored by handset manufacturers since it is the 4G flavor adopted by China and India. Nokia Siemens Networks will deploy TD-LTE for China Mobile in three cities by the end of 2012 using an 8-pipe radio which can drive four sectors in a ‘2 transmit 2 receive’ configuration.

The ideal “world phone” might offer GSM voice/data at 700/800 MHz, 1.8 GHz and 2.6 GHz. Both paired and unpaired LTE can do Circuit Switched Fall Back for GSM coverage.

If the phone cost $99, you might sell a billion. TD-LTE may enable $10-$20/mo service.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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