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MNO, MVNA, MVNE and MVNO: What’s the difference?

Tilly Michell

Jun 5, 2024

5 min

If you're reading this, there’s a chance you’re new to telecom and its long list of acronyms. In this article, we’ll demystify some of the most commonly used telecom terms and explore how telecom-as-a-service (TaaS) is helping businesses bypass complexity to build, launch and monetize a wireless service fast.

What is a mobile network operator (MNO)?

Mobile network operators (MNOs) are companies that own, or at least own licenses for, the network infrastructure that enables wireless connectivity. MNOs are also called carriers, mobile service providers, or simply networks. Examples of MNOs include Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. 

As well as selling mobile plans directly to consumers, MNOs sell connectivity at wholesale rates to other companies, which then sell on to end users. This relationship is beneficial to all parties.

  • MNOs are able to reach customers in new sectors that they might not have otherwise won. 

  • Companies that purchase connectivity can launch their own phone plans tailored to specific customer segments. For example, an HR or IT platform could offer their business customers a simple way to provision phone plans for employees in multiple markets. 

  • End users are given a greater choice of mobile provider and more flexibility when it comes to choosing a wireless plan.

MNOs operate a tiered pricing model and companies are required to buy large quantities of wholesale connectivity upfront (and take on the associated risk) in order to secure the best prices. As giants of the telecom industry, MNOs also tend to move slowly, and it can take several months to negotiate a partnership. Fortunately, there are other, more convenient ways to purchase wholesale connectivity, as you will see below. 

What is a mobile virtual network aggregator (MVNA)?

Mobile virtual network aggregators (MVNAs) buy wholesale mobile and data services from MNOs and sell them to other telecom companies. Because MVNAs buy connectivity in bulk, they can sell it for a better price than smaller companies will get by going direct to an MNO. 

Whilst buying connectivity from an MVNA may save your company money versus buying direct from an MNO, MVNAs still require upfront volume commitments. What’s more, integration with legacy MVNA systems can take time and require dedicated engineering support.

Telecom-as-a-service provides a third option for modern, tech-enabled businesses. By partnering with a TaaS provider such as Gigs, your company can access wholesale connectivity from multiple carriers through a single API integration. Rather than buying in bulk, you can pay for the connectivity you sell on a per-subscription basis, while your TaaS provider handles all associated regulatory hurdles and telecom taxes. That means your business can launch and scale a wireless service faster and with less risk.

What is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)?

A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is a company that sells talk, text, and data to everyday consumers. Unlike MNOs, MVNOs do not own the wireless network infrastructure, and instead purchase wholesale connectivity directly from MNOs or from third parties.

As telecom APIs reduce the complexity of launching and operating a wireless service, more and more companies are choosing to bundle wireless connectivity with their core products as a way to earn additional recurring revenue. Examples include fintechs, hardware companies, and IT platforms. 

What is a mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE)?

Mobile virtual network enablers (MVNEs) supply business and operational support systems to MVNOs. Within the telecom industry, these systems are collectively referred to as OSS and BSS. Examples of services that MVNEs offer include order management, billing, taxes, regulatory compliance, and customer analytics. 

Historically, MVNOs had to work with several MVNE partners, as well as an MVNA, in order to launch a fully functioning mobile service. A lack of standardization within the industry caused further complications, as compatibility issues required custom solutions which cost millions of dollars to build and maintain. 

Telecom APIs have gone some way towards solving these issues by enabling the flow of data between OSS and BSS solutions. But, until the advent of TaaS, launching a mobile service remained a complex process with high upfront costs and lengthy lead times. 

What is telecom-as-a-service (TaaS)?

There are over 8.58 billion mobile subscriptions in the world, more than the number of people on the planet, and yet, until recently, only a small number of companies offered wireless connectivity. The reason being that telecom is a complex industry with high barriers to entry. 

Historically, before launching a mobile service, companies had to negotiate with MNOs or MVNAs to acquire wholesale connectivity, then work with a host of MVNEs to manage billing, subscriptions, customer service, regulations, taxes, and more. As a TaaS platform, Gigs is designed to abstract that complexity by offering everything you need to launch a mobile service in one place, via a single API integration.

By leveraging Gigs, your business can launch and monetize a mobile service fast, without hiring a dedicated team, even if you have no prior experience in the telecom industry. 

If your business already sells mobile plans, you can streamline your operating system, reduce risk, and modernize your customer experience by replacing all or part of your existing setup with our solutions.  

To learn more about how we can help your business launch and scale a mobile service, speak to our team.

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