Virgin Mobile opens new mobile venture in Poland

Virgin Mobile has added another mobile operator to the Polish market, and one it hopes will attract a million customers in the country.

Virgin Mobile officially launched its new mobile offering in Poland today.

The company, based in the UK, is setting up a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO).

MVNOs do not own their own network infrastructure, but lease the capacity in bulk from a third party -- in the case of Virgin Mobile Poland, that would be Play, the smallest of Poland's four operators. Virgin Mobile has a history of setting up MVNOs: its first, in the UK, was one of the first such ventures to take off and it now has nine in different countries around the globe.

Virgin Mobile hopes its new Polish venture will gain at least one million customers in the country, and will initially only offer offer prepaid telephony and mobile internet services. While the operator is not currently planning to offer subscription services, it hasn't ruled it out in the future.

Virgin Mobile hopes to storm Poland's large but non-dynamic prepaid market with a very limited (but attractively priced) offering: the company's new online shop offers a handful of smartphone devices that generally fall in the budget category, while calls will be priced at 19 groszy (€0.05) per minute - lower than the competition's rate of around 29 groszy per minute (€0.07).

The cost of sending a text message (12 groszy or €0.03) and browsing (1 grosz or €0.002 per 5KB) are also lower on Virgin Mobile than on most rival operators.

Still, Virgin faces some challenges. MVNOs have not taken off in Poland so far (the current market share of such operators is 1.6 percent, according to analyst firm Audytel), and many Poles have been pushed towards subscription offerings rather than prepaid. The Polish mobile market is also already saturated: the country, which has a population of 38 million, has 53 million registered SIM cards.

On the other hand, a budget offering in a country where wages are low by European standards and with a young and enthusiastic user based might well take off.

Virgin Mobile is already looking to expand further in the region, with plans afoot to launch in Russia, Hungary and Turkey too.