Vodafone Egypt launches MVNO Bladna targeted at Egyptian diaspora living in Italy

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Last Saturday in Milan, Vodafone Egypt threw in a free concert with the famous Egyptian singer Nancy Ajram to launch its first MVNO under the label “Bladna”. Bladna which means homeland in Arabic. It is an MVNO targeted at the Egyptian diaspora living in Italy. Isabelle Gross spoke to Arkadi Panitch, CEO of Effortel, the company that has set up and will run the backend of Bladna’s operations in Italy.

Effortel has been set up in Belgium in 2005 by a group of telecoms experts with Arkadi Panitch at its head. The company specialises in building MVNOs for other clients, none telecom clients like supermarket chain Carrefour or perfume and body care company FM as well as telecoms clients like Vodafone. The just launched MVNO Bladna by Vodafone Egypt is primarily targeted at the Egyptian and the other North African emigrants that have made Italy their home.

Bladna will of course offer cheap phone calls to Egypt and other North African countries as well as credit transfers from Bladna customers to Vodafone Egypt customers (a clever way to enter the remittance segment at the same time). Bladna is all in Arabic language and it will be promoted by viral marketing, looking at the specific channels and shops that the Egyptian diaspora use. Rather than traditional marketing and expensive outlets, Bladna will get its SIM cards and calling credits to potential customers using these outlets in Egyptian diaspora communities. There are over one million Egyptians emigrants in Italy and Bladna hopes to reach 150,000 subscribers after four years.

Although Bladna is Vodafone Egypt’s first MVNOm there is no reason that this will be the only one. According to Arkadi Panitch, if the mobile operator develops a consistent strategy at targeting Egyptian and North African emigrants, it will be in position to launch more MVNOs in a few other European countries. Arkadi explains further that large mobile operators will be looking at doing more of this kind of MVNOs in the future – in other words going out in the market or abroad under a new brand name to target specific customers segments that their current offering doesn’t manage to capture. In Italy again, Effortel has also helped a Chinese entrepreneur to set up an MVNO labelled Daily Telecom which offers mobile calls to China and Hong Kong for the price of a local call. The MVNO has already 300,000 customers most of them Chinese emigrants.

Other mobile operators in North Africa have launched MVNOs in European countries with less success. In 2007,  Maroc Telecom launched a MVNO under the label Mobisud in France and Belgium targeting the North African emigrants. For Arkadi Panitch, the success of an MVNO like Bladna or Daily Telecom is to keep costs as low as possible across every department. Effortel provides the platform and the technical implementation at an affordable price but alongside this, marketing costs and all other costs (finance, administration, customer support) have to mirror the revenue potential of a low cost offering. At Daily Telecom for example there are only two people on the management side of the MVNO. According to Arkadi Panitch, traditional mobile operators are not good at rolling out low cost offerings targeted at emigrants or other customers segments. Their marketing approach is still too focussed on tailoring offers for the bulk of their customers rather than attractive offers targeted at meeting the needs of specific customer segments. An additional innovation from Effortel includes a feature that allows street vendors to activate a Bladna SIM card directly upon purchase. The details of the new customers and a photo are captured on a smartphone and the data are later uploaded into a central database in order to comply with Italian mobile subscribers’ registration requirements.

Africa has a huge diaspora outside the continent but also on the continent. Just ask yourself how many people from Burkina Faso live in Côte d’Ivoire or how many people coming from Zimbabwe live at present in South Africa? Africa also doesn’t lack of entrepreneurial people keen to make a living by venturing in new business areas. Effortel is currently having advanced talks regarding the launch of an MVNO in West Africa and more African countries are on the roadmap. There are also potentials outside the continent in particular in Europe. What about an MVNO in the UK targeting Nigerians or Ghanaians emigrants? This is an idea that should give some second thoughts to mobile operators like MTN, Globacom or Vodafone.

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