Sainsbury’s have announced that they plan to launch a mobile phone network of their own before the end of the year. They’re partnering with Vodafone for the launch and will therefore make use of Vodafone’s infrastructure and network rather than building their own, similarly to how Tesco mobile uses O2.
It will be a 50/50 partnership between Sainsbury’s and Vodafone and it is surely Sainsbury’s hope that by launching a mobile network they will be able to gain some ground back against supermarket rivals Tesco and Asda - both of which currently outperform them and have mobile networks of their own.
The new network will be called ‘Mobile by Sainsbury’s’ and it should launch by the end of the summer. Sainsbury’s already sell smartphones and SIM cards in store so it’s not a huge step to go from that to the launch of a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). Indeed the supermarket chain plans to ramp up the sale of phones and SIM cards to coincide with the launch, by setting up dedicated internal ‘Phone Shops’ in many of their stores.
There’s no official word on what phones will be available or the pricing yet, though as their main competitor is arguably Tesco mobile they’ll probably want to be similarly affordable. It’s also likely that customers will be able to gain Nectar points by buying handsets and taking out contracts. It’s unknown whether Mobile by Sainsbury’s customers will be able to use phones locked to Vodafone and vice-versa, but we’d guess that they will be able to.
There’s also the question of whether Mobile by Sainsbury’s will just offer 3G or whether it will also offer 4G as well. After all, their network will be using Vodafone, who themselves should have a live 4G network by the end of the summer (in other words at around the same time as the launch of Mobile by Sainsbury’s). So it’s entirely likely that Vodafone and Sainsbury’s would take advantage of that by making 4G available on Mobile by Sainsbury’s too. In fact it’s even possible that the timing of Sainsbury’s network launch has been decided precisely so that they can offer 4G at launch.
On the other hand it’s probably going to be a fairly low cost network and 4G and low cost don’t really go hand in hand, so it remains to be seen whether 4G will come to Mobile by Sainsbury’s or not. If it does - and it does so at around the launch of the network then Sainsbury’s may well find themselves with a live 4G network ahead of major networks O2 and Three, which could give them a big boost against Tesco - who themselves use O2.
It’s a boost that Sainsbury’s will need if they’re serious about competing in the mobile phone space. Tesco mobile launched ten years ago and has around three million customers, so Mobile by Sainsbury’s has a lot of catching up to do.