One of my more enduring posts on these boards is the one(s) relating to UK mobile market share. Outside the big four/three (plus 3…), the mobile world is dominated by virtual network operators of which the largest are Virgin Mobile (which pitches up on the T-Mobile network) and Tesco Mobile (which uses O2) – thus neatly putting each on either side of the everything everywhere/3 and Vodafone/O2 network duopoly.
So, in this context, I noted with interest this week Tesco Mobile announced that its subscriber base had topped 2.5m (indeed, it was one of the company’s bright spots in an apparently disappointing Christmas period). Tesco Mobile reported this Christmas as its ‘best ever‘ [NB Not sure about the longevity of this link], increasing its subscriber base in each quarter and the total by 25% over the course of 2010 (thus adding 500,000).
The company believes it is ‘well on the way to becoming the No. 1 MVNO’. Last time I posted, Virgin Mobile had a total of just under 3.2m subscribers although these refer to the end-2009 position. Whether Tesco is gaining ground needs to await further figures from Virgin Mobile – and there is no reason to assume that Virgin Mobile, as a separately-owned company, is sharing the same woes as T-Mobile. Nevertheless, 25% growth in a saturated market – there are over 80m ‘active’ mobile subscriptions in a country of 60m+ people – is an impressive achievement and the gap is evidently likely to have narrowed sharply.
Ofcom published its 2010 second quarter market update figures just over a week ago; this was the first quarter in which joint figures were published for Everything Everywhere (the merged T-Mobile and Orange operation). This indicated that Vodafone had 17.3m subscribers, O2 20.7m and Everything Everywhere 27.1m (Section 3 on the mobile market, Table 4 – p. 20). The data is incomplete since it excludes 3 and also, apparently, both Virgin Mobile (now) and Tesco Mobile, but it evidently shows a mobile market for the top players of 65.1m subscribers, leaving the rest therefore with 15m. These would divide roughly as follows: 3 claims 6.2m subscribers (a figure which is in all its press releases, the most recent of which is here); while Tesco Mobile now has 2.5m. This would leave room for – say – c. 3.6m with Virgin Mobile [Edit 20 February: I was over-generous: it’s actually 3.1m (Table C4, p. 20)] and the remaining 2.7m or so as various re-sellers and niche players and a market structure something like this (figures approximate):