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MNO/MVNO/MVNE/MVNA: Key Players in the Market

Customer experience and service are at the centre of all businesses, without new customers there would be no business. But what happens when the customer base is dynamic and ever-changing, as is the case for the Telecommunication industry, how do you ensure that customer needs and demands are being met?

MNOs are traditional mobile operators who own and operate their own networks. MVNOs are mobile virtual network operators who do not own or operate their own networks, but rather rent capacity on MNO networks. MVNEs are mobile virtual network enablers who provide the infrastructure and back-end services for MVNOs. MVNAs are mobile virtual network aggregators who provide a single point of contact for multiple MVNOs.

MNOs: The Backbone of the Industry

MNO stands for Mobile Network Operator and is essentially known as a wireless service provider. MNOs are considered to be the backbone of the Telecoms industry. This is primarily because they own all the components required to sell and deliver mobile services to an end-user, such as international calling, talk and text, mobile plans, and wireless solutions. They are a self-sufficient entity that buys and leases access to the wireless frequency spectrum, which is critical for the wireless communications infrastructure and Telecom services. Examples of prominent MNOs globally include Verizon, AT&T, China Mobile, and Deutsche Telekom. 

MVNOs: Sidekicks to MNOs

It is almost impossible for MNOs to meet all customer demand and needs, which is where Mobile Virtual Network Operators or MVNOs come in. MVNOs are smaller carriers that lease cellular coverage and data bandwidth from MVOs and then resell it as their customised services and offerings. What makes the MVNO business model so successful is that they have access to better prices and can create innovative B2B, B2C, and special IoT offers. There are several different MVNOs structures and capabilities, these include:

  • Full MVNO – has the infrastructure and technology to create a core network. This includes its HLR (Home Location Register), networking hardware, routing capabilities, applications, customer care, handset management, etc. Full MVNOs only rely on an MNO for Radio Access Network to provide 3G, 4G, or 5G services but handles all other elements related to infrastructure, operations, customers, and data on their own.
  • Light MVNO – this model has the same capabilities as a full MVNO but lacks its HLR, networking infrastructure, and hardware. A light MVNO relies on the MNO for operational management and focuses its efforts on marketing, customers, and billing. 
  • Second Brand MVNO – this model serves as a second brand for its partnering MVNO and has all the capabilities of a light MVNO but depends on an MNO for application and services.
  • Branded Reseller MVNO – branded reseller MVNO is heavily dependent on its partnering MNO and only focuses on marketing and sales.

MVNE: The Enablers

A Mobile Virtual Network Enabler (MVNE) plays an essential role in getting smaller MVNOs off the ground. MVNEs have the expertise and experience needed for the implementation and management of telecom services, especially where billing is concerned. They offer this expertise to MVNOs as a service. MVNEs provide network infrastructure, administration, and operational support systems to MVNOs, allowing the MVNO to provide services to their customer base under their brand.

When an MVNO falls under the umbrella of an MVNE, it can be up and running relatively fast with minimal start-up costs and reduced airtime costs as the MVNE hosts multiple MVNOs on a single platform. The MVNE also provides SIM provisioning and configuration, customer billing, CRM, and value-added service platforms. 

MVNA: The Gather of MVNOs

MVNA (Mobile Virtual Network Aggregator) aggregates or combines several small MVNOs under the umbrella of one big MVNO in order to bulk buy from MNOs. They then resell this to their smaller MVNOs. This is a business model that allows MNOs to manage and conveniently sell to small MVNOs and will enable MVNOs to get cost-effective profitable deals, as MVNAs are capable of negotiating better deals with MNOs.

A summary of the differences between MNO/MVNO/MVNE/MVNA

Each of the key players mentioned above (MNO/MVNO/MVNE/MVNA) fulfills essential roles within the telecoms industry, but each has its niche and differences. We summarise these differences for you below:

  • An MNO (Mobile Network Operator) creates a mobile network and is responsible for its upkeep, as well as business support and operations systems. The MNO sells directly to MVNOs, MVNAs, and MVNEs.
  • MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) are smaller carriers that resell cellular coverage and data, leased from MNOs, as their customised services and offerings. There are different MVNO structure types and capabilities. 
  • An MVNA (Mobile Virtual Network Aggregator) connects smaller MVNOs under one umbrella to the MNO instead of many small MVNOs connecting directly to the MNO. Typically, the MVNA will have its own business and operating systems but will not have any direct subscribers other than the MVNOs. An MNO sells directly to the MVNA which then resells to its smaller MVNOs.
  • An MVNE (Mobile Virtual Network Enabler) provides new small MVNOs with start-up services such as billing, administration, operations, support, etc. The MNO often outsources all functionality to an MVNE. The MVNE typically does not have customers, instead, it provides infrastructure and services to MVNOs. The MNO sells directly to the MVNE.


MNO/MVNO/MVNE/MVNA all play a key role in the telecoms market and ensure that customers’ mobile and network needs as well as demands are being met. None of these operators, enablers, or aggregators work in isolation but rather together to ensure that mobile operations are effective and efficient enough to meet the changing needs of consumers. Ultimately, this will ensure that the MNO/MVNO/MVNE/MVNA market continues to grow and develop.

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