This year, China might finally issue the official operator licenses for “virtual telecom providers.” Three years back, the news would have made a splash throughout the whole internet industry, but now few seem to care.

At a 2017 year-end industry conference, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced (in Chinese) that all qualified private virtual telecoms will formally receive an official license to resell internet access in 2018. These virtual operators do not maintain a network infrastructure but rent wholesale services like roaming and text messages from China’s three dominant telcos—China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom.

When the MIIT started to pilot virtual telecoms in several Chinese cities back in 2013, the country was psyched about BAT and the likes taking down the big three telcos, who are notorious for their lousy service (China Unicom, China Telecom) and opaque billing (China Mobile). Three years in, the official licenses still haven’t arrived, and many of the 42 piloted virtual operators are struggling to survive.

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Rita Liao

Telling the uncommon China stories through tech. I can be reached at ritacyliao [at] gmail [dot] com.