There is no common and agreed MVNO definition. The industry and regulators have adopted various definitions for Mobile Virtual Network Operators, as there are several ways to form a MVNO, largely depending on which of the mobile network operator (MNO) facilities the MVNO relies on.
However, based on a combination of the definitions from various national regulatory authorities (see below), a common MVNO definition of Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), could look like this:
A Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), is an entity, who offers telecommunications services similar to a mobile network operator (MNO), however the MVNO does not own any radio frequency spectrum. Instead, the MVNO enters into an agreement with a mobile network operator, who has radio frequency spectrum. Depending on the type of MVNO, it will either buy bulk access to the network services from the mobile network operator, at discounted rates (wholesale agreement), and then set its own proposition and retail prices, or it will enter into a reseller agreement with the mobile network operator.
MVNO Definitions in Various Countries
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) • MVNO Definition
An MVNO is a wireless service provider that does not own spectrum or operate its own radio access network (RAN); instead, it relies on the spectrum and RAN of a wireless carrier and, in some cases, other facilities and/or services, to provide mobile wireless services to consumers.
Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority • MVNO Definition
MVNOs are one type of shared spectrum operator who do not possess any spectrum of their own but rather utilize the spectrum and several network components of another operator at appropriate commercial terms.
France – Autorité de Régulation des Communications Électroniques et des Postes (ARCEP) • MVNO Definition
MVNO’s are operators who do not have their own radio network, using that of one of the three mobile operators (Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom) by buying wholesale minutes of conversation to offer mobile communications services to their subscribers. Although they do not have their own radio network, MVNOs are operators, who control the design and launch of their commercial offers, and are fully responsible for the provision of mobile communications services to their customers.
Georgia Communications Commission (ComCom)
A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is a mobile service provider that does not have its own network and infrastructure, and instead uses another operator’s network to provide services.
Ghana National Communications Authority • MVNO Definition
A Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) is an entity that does not have spectrum of its own for access services but is licensed to provide access services to its customers through an agreement with any licensed access provider (also called an MNO). The MVNO shall not possess spectrum for access services in any manner including licensing of spectrum.MVNOs shall be licensed as distinct service providers with their own licensing and regulatory framework.
Hong Kong – Communications Authority • MVNO Definition
A MVNO is an operator who provides a public radiocommunications service to customers through interconnection with, and access to, the radiocommunications infrastructure of a MNO licensed under a UCL authorised for provision of mobile services or a MCL and assigned with the radio spectrum through which the public radiocommunications services are provided.
Iran – The Communication Regulatory Authority (CRA) • MVNO Definition
Full MVNO: Virtual operator which could use mobile network capacity of host operators (MNOs) based on a wholesale agreement, to serve its subscribers with its own brand, marketing and sales model; in addition it shall establish its own mobile network infrastructure except the radio access network. This operator could have its own service platforms and billing and customer care.
Full MVNO shall establish its own Mobile Switching Centre (MSC), Home Location Register (HLR) data base, Gateway GPRS Support Node (GGSN) and Service GPRS Support Node (SGSN).
Full MVNO is not allowed to establish its own radio access network with any licensed frequency spectrum and related transmission network.
Light MVNO: Virtual operator which could use mobile network capacity of host operators (MNOs) based on a wholesale agreement, to serve its subscribers with its own brand, marketing and sales model. This operator could have its own service platforms and billing and customer care.
Light MVNO is not allowed to have its own Mobile Switching Centre (MSC), Gateway GPRS Support Node (GGSN) and Service GPRS Support Node (SGSN). Light MVNO is not allowed to establish its own radio access network with any licensed frequency spectrum and related transmission network.
International Telecommunication Union (ITU) • MVNO Definition
A Mobile Virtual Network Operator (VNO) is an operator that offers mobile services but does not own its own radio frequency. Usually, this operator has its own network code and in many cases issues its own SIM card. The mobile VNO can be a mobile service provider or a value-added service provider. It is to be noted that there are differing views on how to define a mobile VNO.
Jordan – Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Jordan (TRC) • MVNO Definition
“Mobile Virtual Network Operator” (MVNO) means an operator which may own or control infrastructure and which is licensed to resell Public Mobile Wireless Services under its own name using the network, in full or in part, of licensed MNO(s).
“MVNO Services” means Public Mobile Wireless Services that are provided by an MVNO.
The MVNO Services could have, but are not limited to, the following characteristics:
Full responsibility of the MVNO for the relationship with its subscribers in accordance with terms and conditions of its License Agreement and any related Regulations.
Differentiated tariff schemes and business strategies of MVNO from those of its host MNO.
MNOs and MVNOs shall be free to negotiate the model that best fulfils their interests and business strategies. Consequently, more than one type of MVNO can be implemented in Jordan depending on how far an MVNO wishes to rely on the facilities of the host MNO, the adopted segmentation of the market, and the proposed product sets.
Kosovo – Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) • MVNO Definition
Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) is an operator with no possession of frequency spectrum, but has an agreement with conventional Mobile Network Operators (MNO). MVNOs purchase minutes from MNOs and then, they resell it to their consumers.
Kuwait – Communications and Information Technology Regulatory Authority (CITRA)
Mobile Virtual Network Operator (“MVNO”) means a Licensed Service Provider that resells wholesale mobile network services which are leased/purchased from a Host FBP in order to provide retail services to the MVNO’s subscribers without spectrum assignment or radio access network.
Malta – Malta Communications Authority (MCA) • MVNO Definition
The MCA categorises three models for such undertakings as follows:
1. Service Provider (SP) or airtime reseller: The undertaking does not control any network element and makes use of the SIM cards of the MNO.
2. Enhanced Service Provider (ESP): The undertaking resells the services of the MNO and provides additional own services. They do not issue their own SIM cards, although they may re-brand the network operator’s SIM cards.
3. Full or Extended Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO): The undertaking operates a physical network infrastructure comprising of, at a minimum, a Mobile Switching Centre (MSC), a Home Location Register (HLR) and authentication centre (AUC). A full MVNO has its own International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) code, its own Network Code (MNC), issues its own SIM cards and offers its own.
Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (SKMM) • MVNO Definition
A Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) is an organization that does not have assignment of spectrum, but is capable of providing public cellular services to end users by accessing radio networks of one or more spectrum holders.
New Zealand – Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment • MVNO Definition
A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is a mobile service provider that does not have its own network infrastructure or radio spectrum licenses, but rather uses an existing mobile network operator’s infrastructure and spectrum.
An MVNO provides services by purchasing a wholesale ‘full service’ mobile offering. The service provider then utilises an existing mobile network to deliver a full suite of mobile services to end-users, with their own branding, billing, and so on.
Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) • MVNO Definition
A Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) is a telecommunications product and service operator that rides on top of the capacity of a fully Licenced Mobile Telecommunications Service provider or Mobile Network Operator (MNO).
The MVNO reaches a “Wholesale Agreement” or “Revenue Sharing Agreement” with the Telecommunications Company (Telco) through negotiations, and delivers its services after bulk purchasing resources from the Telco.
The defining difference between an MVNO and an MNO is the simple fact that an MVNO has no ownership whatsoever of spectrum elements, irrespective of its operational model.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority • MVNO Definition
Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) is an operator that does not own any spectrum; instead, MVNOs have commercial arrangements with conventional Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) for provision of mobile communication services to their own customers.
Portugal – Autoridade Nacional de Comunicações (ANACOM) • MVNO Definition
On 09 February 2007, ANACOM approved the framework for the activity of MVNOs, which states as follows: “There are many economic operations which can be included under the designation MVNO, which however have as a common denominator the fact that these operators do not use rights of use for frequencies and are consequently not provided with their own radio access network infrastructures, being thus required to support themselves on radio means supplied by network operators who hold the respective rights of use”.
More recently, it was deemed that an MVNO is “a body that in its virtual mobile operation does not use rights of use for frequencies and consequently self-owned infrastructures associated to the radio access network, being supported on radio means provided by network operators who hold the respective rights of use. Different types of operations may be deemed to be MVNO operations, according to whether they use more or less self-owned infrastructures and systems”.
Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA)
Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO): is a mobile wireless communications services provider that does not own the wireless network infrastructure over which it provides services to its customers.
Saudi Arabia – The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) • MVNO Definition
Mobile Virtual Network Operator (“MVNO”) means a Licensed Service Provider that leases mobile network capacity from a Host Facilities Based Provider (FBP) and uses this capacity to offer its own mobile subscriptions and services to end-users without spectrum assignment or radio access network. An MVNO may lease transmission capacity and other related wholesale services from the Host FBP or from other Licensed Service Providers.
Singapore – Info-communications Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) • MVNO Definition
A Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) is an operator who provides mobile subscription and call services to its customers with no allocation of spectrum. The MVNO must use part of the networks of a mobile operator licensed by IDA as a Facilities-Based Operator (“FBO”) to originate and deliver its customers’ calls. The MVNO must pay such FBO for the use of the network and/or the essential radio segment of the network(s).
National Communications Authority Federal Republic of Somalia
Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) means is an operator that offers mobile services but does not own network infrastructure, it can be a mobile service provider or a value-added service provider, providing services through an agreement with a mobile network operator to obtain access to network services.
Thailand – National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) • MVNO Definition
NBTC’s Notification on MVNO, B.E. 2556: “MVNO” means type I operator who is not permitted to use frequency, and has no right to manage all or part of frequency in mobile service provision according to the permitted scope.
US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) • MVNO Definition
Resellers offering service to consumers by purchasing airtime at wholesale rates from facilities-based providers and reselling it at retail prices.
UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) • MVNO Definition
MVNOs’ invest in some hardware allowing it to differentiate its offer to the customers and make it less dependent on the MNO’s capacity. The MVNO has full control over the customer who will have to sign a contract with the provider and issue their own SIM cards.
Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ)
A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is a wireless communications services provider that does not own the wireless network infrastructure over which it provides services to its customers.
An MVNO licence authorises the licensee to negotiate with and enter into a business agreement with a mobile network operator (MNO) licensee to obtain bulk access to network services and radio frequency spectrum at wholesale rates, then sets retail prices independently.
The MVNO licence allows the prospective licensee to negotiate for concession at any point in the MNO value chain, hence an MVNO may decide to use own customer service, billing support systems, marketing and sales personnel, or it could employ the services of a mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE).
What a Mobile Virtual Network Operator isn't
A MVNO is not a “mobile operator light”. MNO and MVNO are two very different business models, cost structure and setups.
A MVNO is not an over-the-top (OTT) service, but have to adhere to industry standards and terms – in order to obtain a MVNO telecom license (or service provide license in some countries) from the local telecom regulator. It is an entity bound by local laws, including paying local tax and fees, as well as adhere to other local regulations.
What is a MVNA • Mobile Virtual Network Aggregator?
The MVNA is an entity, which purchases mobile airtime in bulk from a mobile network partner (mobile network operator), and then wholesales this airtime and service to multiple MVNOs, who each in turn sells the mobile service to end-users. The MVNA acts as a middle-man between the mobile operator (MNO) and the MVNOs.
The benefit for the mobile network operator is that they can sell large discounted airtime bulk to the MVNA, without the normal associated marketing costs, while the benefit for the MVNO is that they are able to obtain a good wholesale rate due to the MVNAs purchase power of discounted airtime from the operator.
What is a MVNE • Mobile Virtual Network Enabler?
It is an entity, which provides infrastructure and services to both network operators and MVNOs, which enables existing, and new MVNOs to offer their services on the operator’s network, while leaving the backend enablement to the MVNE.
The MVNO may use its own customer service, billing support, marketing systems – or employ these services from a MVNE.
The MVNE provides services/systems, such as:
- Product setup,
- Billing system,
- Service delivery,
- Business workflow,
- Fraud management systems,
- Sales and Customer relationship management, etc.
The benefit for the MVNO is that they are able to setup and control their own customers, service and promotions, while for the mobile network operator the benefit is they do not have to deal with administering the heavy processes associated with the launch and day-to-day operations of each individual MVNO.
What is a MVNA/MVNE • Mobile Virtual Network Aggregator/Enabler?
MVNA/MVNE is a combination of, Mobile Virtual Network Aggregator and Enabler. The MVNA/MVNE is an entity, which purchases mobile airtime in bulk from the partner network, adds its service platform (MVNE) on top, and then wholesales this airtime and service as end-to-end to multiple MVNOs and service providers.