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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New Emerging MVNO Business Model

The most successful MVNO business model to date has been: build up a base by slashing prices and then sellout at a premium to some poor incumbent sap who thinks they can bring peace in the ensuing price war. The poster boys for this movement have been Telmore (Denmark) and Saunalahti (Finland) and have literally breed hundreds of imitators.

Now a new business model is appearing on the horizon with the potential of similar success: use a MVNO to seed new technology onto the market circumnavigating the need for initial operator investment and then rollout to operators if and when the application niche is proven.

I’m talking of course of the proposed US MVNO, Lifecomm, which is focused on healthcare.

The company behind the MVNO is the US Wireless technology giant, Qualcomm, and a clue on the type of applications to be forthcoming are seen on the affiliated website, the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance.
  • monitors for glucose, EKG, body temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, calorie burn, activity level, and body mass index
  • weight management/dieting pedometers
  • dermatology diagnosis
  • video teleconferencing
  • EMS cardiac monitors communicating with cardiologists in hospitals
  • RFID technology to ID patients
  • storing and reading medical history in RFID implants
  • patient, staff and asset tracking
  • implanted pacemakers and defibrillators
  • smart bandages (power, RF and processor on disposable bio-sensor pad) for EKGs, heart rate, skin temperature, pulse oximetry
  • 24/7 EKG monitoring
  • heart attack detection
  • smart medication bottles
  • medication dispensing
  • ultrasound
  • clinical trial diaries
  • wound management via digital cameras
  • medical devices to find patients, staff, Alzheimer's patients and kids
I actually think some of the applications are pretty neat and that is not just because of my advancing years. I can also immediately see why mass market operators would have trouble in serving this market. I seem to remember a lecture given by the great Dr Irwin Jacobs to Cornell University last year in which he discusses health applications which is still available online for anyone who wants to see the great man in action. As an aside, there is actually another very good segment in the lecture explaining MEMS technology which potentially is another completely disruptive technology and seems to gaining a little momentum in the market.

Actually, a MVNO is quite a cheap and relatively low risk route for Qualcomm in seeding the market – think of the current money being pumped into building a US wide broadcast network for MediaFlo technology. Historically, Qualcomm has also taken an equity share in operators in new areas think of the investment in Reliance when CDMA was taken to India. Not all these investments have been successful either: my memory banks are still etched with Vesper in Brasil and the early struggles of Leap Wireless in the USA.

Of course, if the rumours are to be believed there is an even bigger US technology giant who is sniffing around the MVNO business model. I’m speaking of course about Google and if anyone is going to get advertising funded applications, such as voice and content, working I think it is Google with its core expertise in flogging ads at a premium price. Personally, I’d pick a smaller market than the UK to experiment in, such as Ireland, where my financial exposure would be more limited, but I like the concept.