Peter Macnee: IFC Helps Virgin Mobile Find Untapped Demographic

Peter MacneeFor Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) Latin America is virgin territory. Barely 0.5% of installed network capacity is currently leased out to providers that do not themselves own any telecom assets. UK operator Virgin Mobile has taken note and is moving in. Starting in Chile, the company – well known for its at times irreverent attitude – introduced simple, easy-to-understand prepaid voice and data plans that in three months attracted some 36,000 customers; a number that has swelled to 200,000 in just over a year and a half.

Peter Macnee, Virgin’s point man in Latin America, launched his company in Colombia and will enter the Mexican market in 2014. His foray into each of these markets is preceded by the unveiling of a provocative statue of Virgin’s founder Sir Richard Branson, usually placed right in front of the new corporate office or even inside its foyer. Antics aside, Virgin Mobile Latin America means business. Mr Macnee keeps quite a straight face as he boldly proclaims that his company will make a mobile phone available to every person on the continent.

In August 2012, Virgin Mobile’s commitment to bringing affordable mobile services to the masses received the blessing of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), part of the World Bank Group, which agreed to supply $11m of strategic funding to help the company gain a solid foothold in Chile. The IFC debt facility will likely entice private investors to underwrite Virgin Mobile’s expansion in Latin America. Since then, the IFC has earmarked an additional $14m in financing to facilitate the launch of Virgin Mobile in Colombia and has expressed an interest to work alongside Virgin Mobile in Mexico.

Mr Macnee feels pretty sure that Virgin Mobile Latin America can make both a splash and a difference: “Our business model aims for competition on creative products as well as on customer satisfaction. The two haven’t often been seen together and for many customers, Virgin’s way of conducting business comes as somewhat of a surprise.”

In Latin America, Virgin Mobile is aggressively and creatively marketing its services to young people. “We have found that customers in this group feel little affinity with existing telecom brands and are bewildered by the glut of confusing mobile plans being offered, one even more complicated than the next.” Mr Macnee and his staff came up with the popular concept of the Anti-Plan: A transparent, straightforward and affordable way to disseminate prepaid mobile services in less affluent demographic segments previously considered off-limits to mobile providers.


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