Exclusive: World's biggest mobile network likely to launch MVNO in the UK imminently

China Mobile, the world's largest mobile phone operator by total number of subscribers, is likely to also become a mobile virtual network operator in the UK next month.

An invite to a "China Mobile New Business Launch" on December 13 mentions the "unveiling of a new service in the UK" with interactive demos to showcase the new service.

"China and the UK are about to get much closer", says the email, before adding "come and see how China Mobile International is changing global communication".

Rumours of China Mobile launching an MVNO in the UK dates from as early as 2008 when it set up its EMEA HQ in London. The company registrar lists Li Qun Lei and Feng Li as the two directors of China Mobile International (UK), a wholly owned subsidiary launched in 2011.

As for the possibility of a Vodafone tie-up, the latter, which is no longer a minority shareholder in the company, still maintains a close relationship with China Mobile as evidenced by rumours of a reverse acquisition in 2014 and a failed bid by both to penetrate Myanmar in 2013.

Never too late

Speaking to Techradar Pro about the possibility of China Mobile landing in the UK, Arun Dehiri, Managing Director of Red Dawn Consulting, said "It’s always great to see new mobile entrants offering something fresh to niche segments, which is where the incumbent operators have struggled. In today’s UK mobile market, we are in a race to the bottom when it comes to voice and data pricing. Thankfully, the market is maturing for operators to derive value from content and value added features – this is where a player with China Mobile can step in with their scale and expertise to provide some much needed innovation".

China Mobile would become the third Chinese MVNO provider in the UK after China Unicom, who runs CUniq with O2, and China Telecom, which operates on EE's network.

The state-owned telecommunication company has more than 880 million subscribers (mostly in China), is the third largest telecommunications companies in terms of revenues and is valued at £179 billion, more than BT, Telefonica (the owners of O2) and Vodafone put together.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.