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China’s mobile market will soon open up to commercial licenses for MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) after the Ministry of Industry and Information and Technology (MIIT) launched a public consultation seeking industry input and feedback on the government’s proposal to allow commercial MVNO licenses, including foreign-invested firms.

Formal commercial licenses will be given to private firms reselling mobile services as a virtual network operator. It comes after over four years of MVNO trials in China, as the country’s regulator pushed to bring in more foreign investment and more competition. China’s mobile market has been labeled “unbalanced” for being dominated by state-owned China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom.

China first opened up to MVNOs in mid-2013 when the MIIT instructed the country’s mobile operators to partner with multiple MVNOs to trial the concept. Since 2013, 42 domestic private firms have participated in the trials, including Snail Mobile, Xiaomi, and, by reselling mobile services with their own brands in 29 provinces across China.

As of 2017, China’s MVNO subscriber base consisted of 4% of the total population (60 million) by the end of 2017, according to statistics from the MIIT. The regulator adds that the MVNO market in China has attracted private investment worth up to $505 million.

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