With four main operators and around twenty virtual operators, competition in France is fierce to offer ever lower prices without denying the quality of service. In this article, we will see how one of these operators enhances its activities to gain in competitiveness.
If France is not the country with the most telephone operators worldwide, at European level, it occupies a very good place. This is explained by the presence of four main operators (MNO): Orange, SFR, Bouygues Télécom and Free. The latter are the sole operators of the antenna network on a national scale. As you can imagine, operating such a vast network, even on the scale of mainland France, requires colossal resources. This is why a constellation of so-called “virtual” operators (“MVNOs” in the jargon) have appeared to participate in the profitability of these lines which they lease to incumbent operators.
It is through this segmentation of the telecoms market, with traditional operators on one side and virtual operators on the other, that the French telecoms market has been able to bring competition into play and take advantage of inexpensive mobile plans. This is all the more true when you compare it to what you find in some of our European neighbours. This is partly reminiscent of what happened just over 10 years ago with Free, which shook up the market for mobile plans by offering much more competitive offers while using the lines of the operator Orange.
A big question can therefore arise: can an operator offer cheap packages while guaranteeing a truly efficient service? To try to find out, we looked on the very specific case of Syma. This MVNO opened its doors to show us the solutions it is exploring. We will explain everything to you.
What is an MVNO?
First, let’s give a simple definition of what an MVNO is : it is a mobile phone operator that provides communication services without owning its own network infrastructure. This technically includes all mobile services, namely voice, data (2G, 3G, 4G, 5G) and messaging services to its customers. MVNOs usually have a simple business model focused on marketing packages without worrying about the technical aspects that this entails.
They focus on the provision of communication services, which allows them to offer competitive offers with more attractive rates than those of traditional operators. Traditional operators, on the other hand, generally have a more integrated structure, since they govern the entire value chain, from the network infrastructure to the sale of services, which effectively multiplies operating costs, without count labor.
The strengths and weaknesses of MVNOs
From a strictly commercial point of view, MVNOs are largely doing well, to the point of suddenly changing consumption habits for mobile plans: whereas in the 2000s, a user tended to keep his plan for several years, even without commitment, the 2010s offered the possibility of seeing a different, more flexible consumption, and the MVNOs are no strangers to this.
Conversely, there may be drawbacks to choosing an MVNO over a classic operator, especially for more specific uses. For example, these virtual operators offer network coverage that is potentially less extensive than that of traditional operators. In particular because they depend on the infrastructure of the host operators and the variations they can make depending on the locality by prioritizing certain accesses for their own customers. Even if this aspect tends to disappear over the years, it is always to be considered. The question is therefore whether an MVNO can offer interesting commercial offers while mastering the network infrastructure to make it more efficient and reliable.
We visited the core network of a telephone operator
Two years ago, we had the opportunity to test an offer from the operator Syma to assess whether the price-quality ratio was as good as what we had been promised. The result was frankly not up to par, the fault of communication problems (poor quality of calls, SMS sent and received after several hours, faulty 4G, etc.).
However, the operator recently offered to meet their teams and visit their network infrastructure to better understand how this somewhat unusual MVNO works. Indeed, Syma is the only French virtual operator to have its own core network, installed and managed entirely by itself.
All right but what is a core network? In concrete terms, it is literally a data center (or data center) concentrating all the hardware through which all communications (calls, SMS, MMS) and 4G and 5 G data pass. This is a miniature version of what more traditional operators have. Everything is governed by a redundancy system in the event of a breakdown to prevent communications from being cut or faulty. The problems encountered during our test carried out in 2021 were also partly due to the installation of this core network, if we are to believe the spokespersons for Syma.
For an MVNO, is a core network really useful?
As we saw above, traditional MVNOs do not have their own physical infrastructure, but they use that of their host operators with whom they have entered into an access rental agreement. This in particular limits the control that the latter can have in the event of failure, deployment of technology, offers or even from a strategic point of view.
For example, for Syma, the core network gives it a competitive advantage. It is the only one able to control the quality of service and the security of its network, but it is above all the only one to have control over the adaptation of its capacities and its resources according to the demand and the needs of the users. . For example: it can change its package offers on the fly to quickly gain competitiveness where other MVNOs have to exchange with their host operators for this type of deployment, and sometimes this can take several days.
From a purely business point of view, an MVNO having access to its core network allows it to negotiate roaming agreements with other operators, benefiting from a favorable position to set the prices and conditions of access to its network like a certain YouPrice which takes advantage of the mobile networks of Orange and SFR by bringing competition into play.
This is not necessarily the case with Syma, because the operator is the exclusive beneficiary of the SFR network after being bought by the Altice group in 2022. The latter also owns other MVNOs such as Prixtel or Coriolis.
It can also integrate new technologies, develop additional features and improve the overall user experience. The example concerns data, Syma could use this advantage to deploy the famous 5G SA (for Stand-Alone) more quickly and be even more competitive.
These rapid deployments are also useful for accommodating more or fewer users depending on the network load. But above all, the operator can adjust its bandwidth and its communication network with regard to the services used by its customers and be more efficient at the right time. For example, on the evenings of major sporting events or for the end-of-year celebrations, the network is less likely to be saturated by adjusting these parameters.
The big advantage of “Network slicing”
The sinews of war for mobile operators is the use of bandwidth, which is expensive and extremely fluctuating depending on the activities. This is where Network Slicing comes into play. In concrete terms, this involves optimizing the management of bandwidth on the mobile network to adapt the network and the quality of service as needed. Syma has a bandwidth of 100 Gb/s which it must distribute efficiently for its approximately 700,000 customers in France and Europe. This technique allows it to open more or less available data for a service or application depending on the rate of use with even geographic targeting depending on demand.
Syma: an example to follow?
To be the most competitive and efficient in an almost saturated market where MVNOs share a small piece of the cake, all means are good to promote your brand. Having your own core network is a sure way to be the most responsive to user demand in addition to ensuring faster management of the slightest glitch. However, this is not an end in itself for many MVNOs who prefer to settle for a simple roaming agreement with the lines of traditional operators (Orange, SFR and Bouygues Télécom in the lead).
The watchword is: everyone has their own strategy. The fact remains that if the means are put in place to no longer depend 100% on a traditional operator, it is because the game is worth the candle.
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