The number of active mobile virtual operators in the Netherlands at the end of Q3 was down by two compared to Q1 to a total 47. The virtual operators had 3.1 million customers at the end of September, up slightly from six months earlier, according to Telecompaper's latest report on the MVNO market. The share of VO subscribers, as a percentage of the entire mobile market, declined to 14.6 percent versus 16.9 percent a year ago, and was stable compared to March 2009.
The report finds that despite the effects of the economic crisis, regulation and competition, the VO market remains dynamic with more new entries and exits. Niche players, organisations with a large customer base and investors interested in exploiting the difference in wholesale and retail voice prices are attracted to the market, while mobile network operators see wholesale as a high-margin business and a way to sell excess capacity and target niche markets. Telecompaper sees data services as a still under-exploited area for virtual operators, but they will face high wholesale prices and will have a hard time entering the competitive market. The upcoming spectrum auction planned for early 2010 in the Netherlands may help some of the current VOs stay in business and new players enter the market.
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The Telecompaper report assigns each VO a rating of one to five stars, based on the three criteria base, portfolio and reach. The latest rankings show the quality of the Dutch VOs in decline since the last report and weighted towards the lower end, with many operators lacking a significant customer base or marketing and distribution resources. Only eight operators received four stars, and Tele2 Mobiel was the only VO with five stars, helped by its own extensive infrastructure and expansion ambitions.
The Dutch VO market is still dominated by five players, namely Lebara, Lycamobile, Tele2, Ortel and AH Mobiel, which have a combined market share of almost 70 percent. In terms of network operators supplying wholesale access for the VOs, KPN continues to lead, although its market share dropped to 66 percent of all VO subscribers. T-Mobileís market share increased to 24 percent and Vodafoneís share passed 9 percent. After debitelís disappearance from the market, the ethnic segment has become the largest segment with a 46.9 percent share of the VO market. The ethnic segment remains quite saturated and very competitive, with continuous promotions in order to attract customers. Lebara has become market leader both in the ethnic segment and of the overall VO market. The non-niche segment, consisting of operators such as Tele2 and Rabo Mobiel, dropped to 19.7 percent market share, mainly due to a push for cost savings, which has contributed to these operators losing customers.