Li Ka-shing’s Three Group helps drive Google mobile service into more countries

Internet giant poised to accelerate global expansion of its nascent wireless services business through partnership with CK Hutchison unit

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2016, 9:25pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2016, 11:02pm

Internet giant Google is poised to accelerate the international expansion of its nascent wireless services business through a partnership with tycoon Li Ka-shing’s Three Group.

Subscribers to the US-based Project Fi, a mobile virtual network operator launched by Google last year, now have high-speed data roaming access on Three’s wireless infrastructure in Europe and Asia, according to separate announcements by Hong Kong-listed CK Hutchison and Google.

Project Fi also represents the highest-profile project for Hue Global Solutions, a venture established as part of the Three Group in April last year to support the international operations of similar mobile services providers.

A mobile virtual network operator is a wireless communications service provider that leases network capacity from an existing telecommunications operator at wholesale prices and resells it to consumers at reduced prices under its own brand.

Part of Li’s flagship conglomerate CK Hutchison, Three Group has operations in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Ireland, Macau, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Britain and Vietnam.

Its combined wireless infrastructure includes Wi-fi, 2G, 3G and 4G Long-Term Evolution networks.

Three Group’s investment in robust networks and Hue’s ability to offer the latest LTE technology in an innovative and flexible way is the ideal match for Project Fi
Hue chief executive Jarrod Nink

“Three Group’s investment in robust networks and Hue’s ability to offer the latest LTE technology in an innovative and flexible way is the ideal match for Project Fi,” Hue chief executive Jarrod Nink said on Wednesday.

London-based Hue was set up by CK Hutchison as a so-called mobile virtual network enabler, providing a single platform to build an international mobile virtual network operator business.

Its services range from mobile network access, customer relations management, billing and provisioning to interface with third-party providers, such as credit management agencies and logistics partners.

Nink said the mobile wholesale market was fragmented, which left new entrants “often challenged” with understanding market nuances and regulations in different countries.

For mobile virtual network operators that want to launch in countries outside of Three’s coverage, Hue is able to negotiate with local operators to provide connectivity.

According to Google, Project Fi now has coverage in more than 135 destinations worldwide after adding Three as a partner. Its other partners are Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular.

“Fi customers now have access to high speed data in over 97 per cent of the places Americans travel internationally,” Google said.

The number of mobile virtual network operators worldwide rose to nearly 1,000 in 2014, due to regulatory policies designed to increase competition, a GSM Association report said.

The industry segment is forecast to be worth US$73.2 billion by 2020 when total subscribers reach more than 300 million, according to Grand View Research.

Mobile virtual network operator licences were granted in mainland China for the first time in 2014. Organisations which acquired such licences included internet companies like Baidu and Post owner Alibaba Group, as well as smartphone suppliers Xiaomi and Lenovo Group.