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August 8, 2022

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What’s the Difference? MNO, MVNO, MVNE, and MVNA

Blog  |  Mobile Brands

The telecommunications industry is evolving at an unprecedented rate, with thousands of new business models and use cases emerging every year. So, to help you navigate the different terms, like MNO, MVNO, MVNE, and MVNA, we thought it might be useful to provide a quick primer. 

In this blog post, we’ll go over the following: 

Ready to launch a new mobile brand? Set up a meeting with one of our experts to get started! 


What Is an MNO?

 A Mobile Network Operator (MNO) is a communications provider that has direct access to licensed frequency spectrum like 3G, 4G, 5G, and LTE, and owns and operates its own Radio Access Network (RAN). 

In addition, MNOs manage their own core network infrastructure, which includes Operations Support Systems (OSS), Business Support Systems (BSS), and other tools necessary for running mobile / cellular businesses. 

More succinctly, MNOs own all the components necessary to sell and deliver mobile services like voice, text / SMS, international calling, etc. As such, they typically have complete control over their data plans, applications, services, rating and billing processes, customer care practices, and marketing and sales strategies. 

Some of the most common MNOs include AT&T, Vodafone, Verizon, T-Mobile, Orange, Telefonica, etc. 


What Is an MVNO?

Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) is a company that provides wireless communications services but has neither direct access to licensed frequency spectrum nor their own radio antennae. Moreover, MVNOs do not typically own their own core network infrastructure. 

Instead, MVNOs facilitate mobile connectivity for their subscribers by purchasing bulk access to network services from MNOs and other network service providers at wholesale rates. As such, MVNOs can set retail prices independently, in alignment with the needs of their intended market segments. 

Broadly speaking, there are three types of MVNOs: Branded Reseller MVNOs, Light MVNOs / Thin MVNOs, and Full MVNOs / Thick MVNOs. 


1. What Is a Branded Reseller MVNO?

Of the three primary types of MVNOs, Branded Resellers are the most lightweight, making them the easiest to set up, with the lowest barriers to entry. 

Indeed, Branded Resellers are MVNOs that leverage predefined settings, tariffs, and bundles from existing service providers (MNOs, MVNOs, MVNEs, etc.) and sell them under their own brands. Since they defer to these readymade environments, they can focus on things that are more in line with their expertise — things like sales, marketing, relationship-building, etc. 

Two of the most well-known Branded Resellers are Walmart Family Mobile and ALDImobile, both of which leverage their brand recognition to sell mobile services to their robust customer bases.


2. What Is a Light MVNO / Thin MVNO? 

Just like Branded Resellers, Light MVNOs delegate operational management of network services to host operators (MNOs, MVNOs, MVNEs, etc.). However, Light MVNOs tend to have substantially more flexibility in defining their services, bundles, tariffs, and plans. 

While Light MVNOs acquire Core Network and Radio Access from host networks, they keep everything else in-house. This includes the management of applications and services, rating and billing, customer care, and sales and marketing. 


3. What Is a Full MVNO / Thick MVNO?

Finally, a Full MVNO is one that manages a variety of core network elements — like Home Location Register (HLR), Gateway GPRS Support Node (GGSN), SMS Center (SMSC), Packet Data Network Gateway (PWG), Session Border Controller (SBC), etc. — but not radio access to host networks. For this, they negotiate service agreements (also known as wholesale agreements) with MNOs. 

Generally, Full MVNOs set up and maintain their own core network elements and infrastructure and manage their own SIM cards, call flows, SMS flows, and data flows. As such, Full MVNOs have complete control over all network services and offerings. 

Whereas Light MVNOs are ideal for service- and brand-oriented businesses, the Full MVNO model is better-suited for larger telecommunications projects. 


Is There a Hard Split Between Light MVNOs and Full MVNOs?

There is no hard split between Light and Full MVNOs. The primary distinction between the two is that Light MVNOs do not own any core network elements whereas Full MVNOs own at least one core network element. 

That said, which core network elements are owned by a Full MVNO depends entirely on which core network elements are provided by their host network. For example, let’s assume that a certain MNO allows for the use of their packet data gateways but not their subscriber registry. Any Full MVNO that uses their network can implement their packet data gateways, but will need to come up with their own subscriber registry. 


How Do Branded Resellers, Light MVNOs, and Full MVNOs Differ?

Full MVNOs are the most flexible of the three main types of MVNOs, meaning they have the most freedom when it comes to developing, bundling, pricing, and branding their offerings. This is because they own and manage more aspects of running a mobile service than do other types of MVNOs. Branded Resellers, on the other hand, are the least flexible since they only get to control things like sales and marketing. 

Simply put, the more aspects an MVNO wants to manage, the more they’ll need to invest and the more flexibility they’ll have. Therefore, for businesses and entrepreneurs looking to launch their own mobile services, it’s important to consider these tradeoffs when coming up with business cases, marketing plans, and organizational strategies. 

Would you like to know more? Set up a meeting with one of our experts to get started! 


How Do MNOs Differ from MVNOs?

The critical difference is that MNOs own their own wireless network infrastructure (antennas) and MVNOs do not. In order to facilitate mobile services to their subscribers, MVNOs must purchase access to radio network infrastructure either directly from MNOs, or indirectly from Mobile Virtual Network Aggregators (MVNA) or Mobile Virtual Network Enablers (MVNE).  

It should also be noted that Light and Full MVNOs are increasingly popular among consumers since they tend to offer more flexibility than MNOs. Indeed, because MNOs tend to have much larger customer bases, their services need to appeal to broader swathes of the market. This leads to generic services, rigid pricing, one-size-fits-all data plans, and uninspiring branding. 

In contrast, the pricing and branding independence enjoyed by MVNOs enables them to home in on ultra-specific customer segments, like low-income consumers, students, the elderly — basically anyone that does not fall neatly into the generic plans offered by MNOs. 

Along the same lines, MVNOs enable businesses to diversify or enhance existing offerings. For example, many Internet Service Providers (ISP) have begun offering mobile services alongside ADSL to retain current customers, attract new customers, and bolster revenue. 

If you’d like to learn more about MNOs and MVNOs, set up a meeting with someone from our MVNO team! 



What Is an MVNE?

Mobile Virtual Network Enablers (MVNE) provide network enablement platforms and value-added services (VAS) to MVNOs and other companies looking to launch mobile brands. An MNVE can offer either Light MVNO or Full MVNO services, depending on the setup described above. 

As with MVNOs, MVNEs do not own their own radio network infrastructure (antennas). Rather, they resell mobile / cellular network capacity that they acquire from MNOs; often packaged with other telco services, such as OSS, BSS, and administration. 


What Is an MVNA?

Put simply, MVNAs purchase bulk network access from MNOs at discounted rates and resell it to MVNOs. They sit between MVNOs and MNOs since, from a strategic standpoint, it does not always make sense for MVNOs to sell network access to hundreds of small MVNOs. This is because each MVNO has different requirements and resources, and the enablement and negotiation process can be difficult to navigate at scale. 


How Do MVNEs Differ from MVNAs?

The primary distinction between MVNEs and MVNAs is this. MVNAs have only one wholesale agreement with Mobile Operators. They leverage this agreement to provide network access for their MVNO customers. MVNEs, on the other hand, typically require wholesale agreements to be made between Mobile Operators and MVNOs. 

If you’d like to learn more about MVNEs and MVNAs, set up a meeting with one of our telecommunications experts! 


About Syntegra 

Syntegra is an experienced provider of Communications Platform as a Service solutions. We empower enterprises, communications service providers, internet service providers, mobile operators, full MVNOslight MVNOs, early-stage innovators, developers, IoT (Internet of Things), and telecommunications infrastructure providers with the freedom and control to create, deliver, and scale innovative communications experiences. 

Syntegra connects people and devices around the world using secure, ubiquitous, and highly scalable solutions to deliver data, voice, video, media, and more. 

If you want to learn more about Syntegra’s connectivity solutions for MVNOs and other branded mobile services, set up a call with one of our telecommunications experts!