NB-IoT needs MVNOs.

The origin of the MVNO was to harness 3rd parties to fill up underused mobile networks. Those networks needed to be overprovisioned in order to attract any customers at all. The exact same scenario presents itself with NB-IoT.

We’ve seen commitments to 90% pop coverage from several operators despite having zero customers today. MNOs should bend over backwards to strike wholesale deals to get some paying customers onto those networks, at least for the next 5 years.

One of the most eye-catching things at Mobile World Congress was 1nce, the Deutsche Telekom backed NB-IoT MVNO. I expect more. And I’m not talking about the recent trend of end-user-as-MVNO, such as auto manufacturers or utilities. That’s a strategic decision to retain control but doesn’t really result in more connections or more rapid adoption than more traditional vendor/customer model. I’m talking genuine 3rd party intermediaries which might have new channels.

Obvious candidates are existing MVNO-type players e.g. Kore or Wireless Logic. But will they want to wreck their existing cellular business with disruptive NB-IoT business models like 1nce’s €10 for 10 years? I suspect not, although they’ll say “we support NB-IoT” of course. There’s a genuine gap in the market for maybe the next 5 years.

[This blog post was originally posted on LinkedIn]