The crucial role of an MVNO in the world of telecoms


Those who work in telecommunications know of the vast web of tasks and jobs that happen behind the scenes of activating a data plan or sending a text message.

We hear of major carriers like T-Mobile, Orange, AT&T or Sprint. There are, however, smaller, but equally as essential players in this expansive telecoms ecosystem: the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO).

Where does an MVNO fall in the line between dialing a number and hearing “Hello”? MVNOs do not actually own their own network infrastructure. So how do they provide services?

Where carriers, or MNOs, are the ones to provide the infrastructure, an MVNO benefits both carrier and consumer by buying the access in bulk and selling it to customers at cheaper prices.

Most of the time the prices are low enough to appeal to those who just want a simple cheap and functional phone plan and go about their lives.

In laymen’s terms, an MNO sells to the MVNO, and the MVNO sells to you.

So why are MVNOs so popular? Why have this middleman between the carrier and subscriber?

Well, one advantage of subscribing to an MVNO telecom company is their brand independence. Big carriers often cast a large net and take a one-size-fits-all approach with their data plans. As such, many subscribers find themselves paying for data they do not use or run out of data prematurely.

MNVOs, on the other hand, have the branding and pricing freedom to target and tailor offers to certain audiences with the data plans that can appeal to them specifically. They can dedicate the time and care for the smaller demographics, and customize their offerings, marketing, sales, billing support, and customer services accordingly.

Think student plans, elderly and family plans, travel and roaming, as well as enterprise level offerings and IoT enablement.

This is what leads many major carriers to bundle up what they’ve got and sell their radio capacity and coverage at wholesale prices to MVNOs.

In the U.S., there are around 60 MVNOs that operate under the four major carriers, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and  AT&T.

Some of these MVNOs connect to all four major carriers, which gives them lots of variety in services and greater coverage.

There are various levels to an MVNOs services and responsibilities, ranging from Skinny/Light to Thick/Full. The classification would depend on their focus and the number of services they integrate.

Branded Resell: The skinniest of the bunch, these MNVOs simply add their own brand with a bit of marketing and sales magic to sell the exact same services to more customers, relying entirely on the MNO for everything else.

Skinny MVNO: Along with branding these MNVOs handle handset management, customer care, and billing and collection services are part of this light MNVO’s responsibilities.

Light/Thin MVNO: In addition to the typical services, these MNVOs have their own portal and/or applications, and customer services.

Full/Thick MVNO: All the above, along with infrastructure management, a Full MNVO creates its own core network and infrastructure, SIM cards as well as SMS, call and data flow.

Carriers resort to full MNVOs if they are incapable or unwilling to share their network infrastructure when undertaking larger telecoms projects.

The world of telecoms is a dense one. Building and managing infrastructure such as antenna network and radio frequency allocation, to managing SIM cards and routing data, all the way down to PR, application and UI creation, sales, marketing, customer services and much more.

With all that in mind, there is a great complexity that goes into sending your mother a text message that you have reached your hotel safely on the other side of the world. Such a feat cannot be tackled by any single enterprise.