Virgin or Lebara. The rest don’t matter!!

Saudi Arabia’s Telecom industry is evolving, 3 new Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) in recent months. Question is: Which MVNO will have the 1st mover advantage? Virgin the equity owner, Lebara piggybacking on Mobily’s Equity or Zain and Axiom both being latest entrants before Virgin and Lebara? Users will decide but Brand Equity and Price points will determine the leadership

  • Lebara, an MVNO based out of Europe, partnered with Mobily
  • Virgin mobile, partnered with STC
  • The ailing Zain decided to partner with Axiom, a regional retailer for mobile/smartphones

The ‘Pay as You go’ MVNO model targets migrant workers and international community. For locals and residents, it’s a second choice to their official/original number. Which of these 3 MVNOs has the first advantage? Apparently, Virgin Mobile (partner of STC) because of its ‘Brand Weight’

I believe the Saudi market is fragmented into several segments that share same attributes or needs but are apart in many ways. Virgin will have the first mover advantage with inbound business travelers and others. Out of the 27 million, 6 million are Expats/Migrant workers or their family members in Saudi Arabia and that’s a big number which is using the current networks, so:

  • What’s the value in having the 3 operators (STC, Mobily, Zain) carry their own MVNOs?
  • What’s the benefit besides ‘Pay as You go’ for the end user in Saudi?

I see Price but other than that, it’s difficult to determine other benefits and expect the Brand which STC has as the winning partner: Virgin. Virgin Mobile will appeal to international community and citizens who are well aware of the Brand, for citizens and residents they will sign up with Virgin and Lebara as second choice (for back-up purposes). Lebara will focus on a target audience which is Price Sensitive (obvious from their communication). Most consumers associate Lebara with Mobily because of similar Brand colors and on the same token, they think it’s a sub brand of Mobily

It’s interesting to see how MVNOs will unfold under the original 3. Hardly anyone knows, at the least among the mainstream users, that Virgin mobile is associated with STC from first time experience but many see the association between Lebara and Mobily. I think Virgin’s Brand Equity will play an interesting role as it will have the first mover advantage and that’s STC’s strength in MVNO scene. On the other hand, Axiom and Zain are yet to prove their success story as Mobile Virtual Network Operator.

Slow moving and Price Sensitive audience will hardly find any value if Lebara and Mobily are attracting the same audience with the same values

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renown Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

He can be reached on

The article was first published on Linkedin Pulse on 29th January, 2015

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