Some of the US's top MVNOs are determined not to be left behind on the 5G hype curve.
"Yes, absolutely we plan to offer 5G," Joshua Gordon, founder and CEO of Red Pocket Mobile, told Light Reading. He said the offering could launch "as early as later this year."
However, Gordon declined to provide details, including which wireless network operator would support the service.
Red Pocket isn't alone.
"The short answer is yes," John Marick, co-founder and CEO of Consumer Cellular, told Light Reading in response to questions on the topic. "We have had discussions with both of our carrier partners and will offer 5G services to our customers in the future."
And Ting said that it is already offering 5G service to customers who bring unlocked, 5G-capable Sprint devices to the MVNO.
The news follows confirmation from cable companies Comcast and Charter that they will both offer 5G through their MVNO agreements with Verizon. However, neither company would provide a timeframe for when it would launch 5G. That's noteworthy because, in February, Samsung suggested that Comcast's Xfinity Mobile MVNO would offer its Galaxy S10 5G smartphone "at a later date this summer."
Regardless, it's clear that 5G will soon be available from brands beyond just the nation's four biggest wireless network operators: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. But, simply due to the nature of the MVNO business model, that doesn't mean consumers are going to get anything new or different in the 5G space.
That's because MVNOs resell wireless service from existing wireless network operators like Sprint and Verizon. MVNOs like Comcast piggyback on wireless networks like the one from Verizon; the MVNO provides services like marketing, customer activation and billing while the wireless network operator handles the underlying connectivity.
However, the details get fuzzy beyond that basic concept. Red Pocket, for example, boasts of prepaid service and inexpensive pricing. Consumer Cellular, meanwhile, is laser focused on the market for seniors, and its pricing, services and device lineup reflect that market demographic.
Indeed, Consumer Cellular's Marick acknowledged as much in discussing his company's approach to 5G. "Today there is not a lot of value [in 5G] for our customers -- mostly hype," he said. "Especially knowing that the majority of our customers tend to be a little more casual users focused on affordability and value, rather than early adopters. However, we are committed to having a wide variety of phones and services available to our customers, from the affordable to the latest and greatest. With this in mind, we will continue to work with our carrier partners to launch 5G once the service and phone selection is wide enough for it to make sense."
He noted that a 5G iPhone from Apple, which is widely expected to launch next year, could provide the catalyst for Consumer Cellular to offer 5G.
Further, MVNOs generally do not release the number of customers they have, or name the network operators they're working with. That makes tracking the space difficult, to say the least.
But there are a few companies that do offer a glimpse into their operations. For example, Red Pocket is one of the few MVNOs that boasts of network agreements with all of the nation's big wireless network operators. Consumer Cellular, on the other hand, last year said it signed up its 3 millionth customer, likely making it the nation's second-largest MVNO behind America Movil's TracFone.
Ting is owned by Tucows, a public company, and as a result reports MVNO customer metrics on a quarterly basis. In its most recent quarter the company reported 157,000 customer accounts and 280,000 subscribers. Ting offers service from Sprint and T-Mobile, though the company just last month announced it is dropping T-Mobile in favor of Verizon.
Meantime, Comcast and Charter are rapidly rising through the MVNO ranks. Comcast now counts nearly 1.6 million lines of service in its Xfinity Mobile MVNO, while Charter's Spectrum Mobile currently counts around 518,000 total lines of service.