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Apple reportedly resurrects MVNO plans

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US devices giant Apple has been trialing an MVNO service in the US and is in talks to launch one in Europe too, according to a report.

Business Insider cites sources close to Apple for its scoop, although we’re told it’s an open secret among operators that Apple wants to get in the MVNO game. There have apparently been talks with European operators too, but no mention of trials.

Apple filed a patent way back in 2006 featuring the diagrams below, detailing an MVNO set up in which Apple acts as the hub for a number of networks. The idea seems to be for there to be some kind of real-time, dynamic process in which network operators effectively bid for business each time an Apple MVNO subscriber wants to make a call, etc.

Here’s what the abstract of the 2006 patent filing has to say on the matter: “The invention, in one embodiment, can involve storing a network address on a mobile device and sending a request for network operator data from the mobile device to a mobile virtual network operator server associated with the network address. In response, network operator data is received, and, based on the received network operator data, a network operator is selected.

“Communications are thereafter conducted using the selected network operator. In some situations, bids are received from multiple network operators for rates at which communication services using each network operator can be obtained. Preferences among the network operators are identified using the received bids, and the preferences are used to select the network operator for the mobile device to use in conducting communications.”

Apple has already installed an embedded SIM in the latest iPads, so its interest in controlling the relationship between users of its devices and mobile networks is already apparent. Furthermore the presumably same sources have also told Business Insider that Apple is also working on using Siri to automatically transcribe voicemails.

You can see why this has been on the back burner for almost a decade as operators are unlikely to be too keen on an MVNO model that distances them from subscribers and commoditizes them even further than they already are. Furthermore Apple is far more dependent in the operator channel for sales of phones than it is tablets, so may be ambivalent about the whole idea.

The arrival of things like Google’s Project Fi has possibly given Apple a renewed sense of urgency with this idea, but the report stresses that even if the Apple MVNO ever happens it is still years away. Maybe it will coincide with the arrival of 5G.

Apple MVNO patent fig 1

 

Apple MVNO patent fig 4

 

UPDATE – 17:30 4 Aug 2015: Apple has given the following statement to Reuters “We have not discussed nor do we have any plans to launch an MVNO.”

 

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