Getting a branded communication network for your “social network” is one of the new trends. It is made possible by operators who do not own the infrastructure or spectrum but resell the services with packaged content and branding. The technical name for operators of such networks is Mobile Virtual Network Operators or MVNOs. Such resellers (Virgin Mobile, Disney) have been around for a while but the social networking boom has made this idea popular. Recently the entry of larger players such as Helio and Sonopia have also helped to generate additional media attention. In its own words Sonopia “democratize mobile services by making it possible for anyone to have their own network. ”

For more information about MVNOs see this link which has a good summary of the business model and the operational issues. Also see Wikipedia which lists the different classifications of MVNOs. As you can see the MVNO idea is mostly about marketing and sales. As another example one such company called Saki sells it services as:

Saki is a new way share and access exclusive content such as photos, videos, music, movies, news, weather, sports, E-mail, IM and more – all in one place! Use Saki to manage your social network, find old friends, map favorite locations, create party invitations, express your opinions..

Here’s an interesting writeup about Sonopia’s service from a site called Springwise which relies on users to spot and captures ideas from around the world.

Organizations that have already set up a Sonopia MVNO include the National Wildlife Fund, the American Medical Student Association and the Long Island Ducks (minor-league baseball). Someone also started a San Francisco Foodies group and the LonelyGirl15 Fan Club.

The obvious challenge when setting up your own MVNO is to create a strong enough hook to convince customers to switch from a major carrier to your service. Which could be exclusive content sent only to members/customers. Non-profit networks are helped by the feel-good factor of knowing that profits are being donated to the cause of one’s choice, as is the case with the National Wildlife Fund: “Help preserve our wildlife today… one call at a time.”

What kind of groups in Pakistan are likely to use this service? I can see some large organizations which would like to have control over the content. I hope political parties don’t use this as a propaganda tool.

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