The company is still alive, but drastically scaling back its business and essentially hibernating until the U.S. [virtual network] market turns around. Sonopia has eliminated all of its U.S. employees from its Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters. Even Christensen holds the unpaid position of Chairman. In their development offices in Ukraine, they have 30 people or half as many as before.
Sonopia had an interesting but impractical premise: Let existing groups like the National Wildlife Federation re-sell custom-branded mobile phone service via Verizon Wireless, with custom phones and a kickback on service fees. But “virtual” carriers need to grow to a huge scale to profit, and Sonopia didn’t. (We don’t know how many subscribers they managed to sign up over the year they were in business, but we bet it was a tiny number.)
For now, existing subscribers will be able to keep their phones — Sonopia will purchase minutes through a third party, and not directly from Verizon (VZ) — but it won’t aggressively market itself anymore. (And isn’t looking for more funding.)
The problem with waiting until the virtual carrier market turns around: We don’t think it will — not any time soon, at least. The operators that virtual carriers rely on for wholesale service are also their competitors. And as their own growth slows, they’re only going to be more aggressive signing up customers for their own service — and less friendly to re-sellers looking to ride on their airwaves.
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