I am interested in the news reported recently that Apple is planning to launch a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) business in Europe. What’s the big deal you may ask, as MVNOs are a dime a dozen? Not that they don’t fulfil an important role in the market, but one more MVNO might not seem like it will make much of a splash. The interesting thing about this report is that it could be a pointer to a future in which network operators are increasingly pushed into the background as far as consumers are concerned.

Amazon provides another early indicator of this as a potential future pattern with the Kindle. When you buy certain Kindle models, while the device will default to wi-fi where available, it comes with mobile connectivity included in the device price, with the mobile network operator basically invisible to the consumer.

It is easy to imagine Apple, with its vast resources and market power, adopting an approach of packaging Apple branded carriage together with the purchase of a device, possibly bundled with other services, such as iTunes or its new music streaming services. This could see network operators driven well and truly into the background, with little if any direct contact with the consumer. Apple is already doing this to a limited extent with its Apple SIM which is currently only available for a limited number of devices, but the MVNO announcement could see a ramp up of this strategy.

Network operators will no doubt be looking to fight back as they try to position themselves as providers of content and technology services as well as carriage, however they may find themselves increasingly going head to head with Apple and potentially other device manufacturers as well.