SINGAPORE's telecommunications market got more exciting on Thursday, with the debut of a new telco operator Circles.Life, a consumer brand of Liberty Wireless.
Starting with a base plan worth S$28 a month with no contract, Circles.Life is betting on attracting digitally savvy customers.
Rameez Ansar, co-founder and director of Circles.Life, said plans offered by the company would be innovative and data-centric.
He identifies 15 to 20 per cent of Singapore's population as the target audience of Circles.Life - a group that "deserves more" in terms customer experience that breaks the mould in terms of how telco services are sold.
Circles.Life is what is known as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). It does not have a physical network; instead, it leases bandwidth from M1 at wholesale rates.
Liberty Wireless signed the deal with M1 last July, a day after the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) announced that it would offer an opportunity for a fourth mobile network operator in Singapore, and would facilitate the entry of MVNOs into the mobile telephony landscape here.
Mr Ansar said customers can sign up online at the Circles.Life website. For the base plan, there is a registration fee of S$4 and the SIM card; SIM card delivery and number porting are free, he said.
The monthly data bundle comes at three gigabytes (GB) for the base plan, plus 100 minutes of talk time. The company will throw in bonus data of between 500 megabytes (MB) and 4 GB.
The Circle.Life official added that the plan enables pay-as-you-go rates for talk time and SMS use.
All incoming SMS messages are free.
Mr Ansar said: "Recognising the fact that most people use WhatsApp for messaging and for phone calls, we include unlimited messaging and calls using the app. This is over and above the data available for the plan.
"We are also including free caller number display."
Turning on data roaming is free, but charges apply for overseas data usage.
Mr Ansar added that users would be able to change their plan any time through a mobile app; visiting a service centre will be unnecessary.
The company will allow subscribers to add data to their plans as and when they need it. A 100 MB costs S$1 a month, 250 MB costs S$2, 500 MB costs S$3.50 and 1 GB, S$6.
Talk time additions are at S$4 per 100 minutes a month and SMS, at S$4 per 100 messages per month.
The company will also sell mobile phones on its website at its retail prices. Circles.Life has teamed up with DBS and UOB to offer interest-free instalment schemes for phone purchases; talks with other banks to offer similar instalment schemes are ongoing, said Mr Ansar.
When it was pointed out to the Circles.Life official that SIM-only plans from the existing telcos were priced more cheaply than those by Circles.Life, Mr Ansar replied that his company's offerings would be the best deal in the long run.
"We offer the flexibility to change plans through our mobile app, Circles Care, on a month-to-month basis for an unlimited number of times."
He added that a customer logs in at the website only once to buy the plan, after which all changes and monthly payments can be made through the "intuitive" mobile app.
"We want to be competitive, but I will not change prices. If I had to just give you prices, then I don't have do any of this. This gives me flexibility."
Mr Ansar said customer care is an important part of Circles.Life's service; live agents will be available on hand to respond via WhatsApp messaging issues raised by customers.
The company now has 50 employees, including in-house customer service agents.
Abhishek Gupta, the other co-founder and director of the company, said that Circles.Life was asset-light and could offer its services because the cloud-computing technology it uses is "state-of-the-art".
When it was pointed out that Virgin Mobile had tried - unsuccessfully - several years ago to set up an MVNO service, Mr Gupta replied that Virgin's MVNO service was then built on rigid systems.
"A lot of the technology that we now have gives us the flexibility to be asset-light and offer choices and service to the customer. Whatever M1 and other telcos provide, we can provide as well."
Virgin Mobile entered the Singapore market in 2001 by leasing bandwidth from Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel), and exited the market a year later.
To a question on the arrangement with M1, and whether Circles.Life would have adequate bandwidth to provide service if it attracted a lot of customers, Mr Gupta said the arrangement was confidential, but that he did not foresee bandwidth problems.
"Our partnership with M1 is a win-win situation for both of us. They get good wholesale revenues, and our customers are added to M1's customer base. We have enough gross margin in our business to sustain it."
He added that a market share in the high single digits would ensure that Circles.Life breaks even.
M1's chief commercial officer Lee Kok Chew said in a statement: "We support Circles.Life's vision of delivering a digital telco experience to customers and look forward to working with it to grow the partnership."
Howie Lau, StarHub's chief marketing officer, said StarHub offers innovative services to attract customers and builds loyalty. "We offer one of the world's fastest 4G networks, quality customer service, value-for-money Hubbing bundles and a wide variety of mobile service plans."
On MVNOs, he disclosed that StarHub was in talks with interested parties "who share a common goal to bring value to more customers, especially in niche segments currently outside of our reach".