MVNO Definitions - what is an MVNE, MVNA, MVNO and MVNx

What is an MVNO, MVNE, MVNA?

Definitions Virtual Mobile and Mobile Virtual


A '''Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)''' is an organisation that provides a mobile (sometimes called wireless or cellular) service to its customers but does not have an allocation of spectrum (Ofcom definition). It is important to add that a) the organisation may own an allocation of spectrum in one region, which would make it a full blown MNO in that region, but operate as an MVNO in another region where it does not own spectrum (Telia, Jersey Telecom), b) that this spectrum can be CDMA, GSM, UMTS, etc. and not just GSM, and c) that spectrum refers to public allocation of spectrum, as recently some companies, including MVNOs like British Telecom, have allocations of mobile spectrum for use in private spaces, similar to hotspots, but are still MVNOs.
The definition of an MVNO is widely documented, however, invariably these definitions focus on a network led perspective rather than a business or customer driven perspective. From a network led perspective, in its simplest term an MVNO is an entity providing a mobile service without owning its own mobile spectrum licence, and not necessarily owing all, or indeed any, of the elements of mobile network infrastructure.
From a customer or business driven perspective an MVNO is an entity that the customer believes is its mobile operator, but does not necessarily have to own or manage all or part of the underlying physical network. To see how an MVNO looks from the all important, yet mostly neglected, customer perspective, and where it sits within the value chain for provision of mobile services see this graphic. 

originally posted by Christian Borrman 3:12am 01/09/05, last amended 10:24am 05/04/07

What is an MVNE?

An MVNE is a Mobile Virtual Network Enabler. One of the first was Spinbox in Sweden. The first and latest MVNEs had their own mobile network agreement with a right to resell its wholesale airtime to smaller MVNOs. There are also a number of MVNEs started around 2006 that just provided the billing and other infrastructure required beyond the network to enable an MVNO. This wider definition of the MVNE occurred due to the reluctance of MNOs in many regions to allow anyone the right to resell wholesale mobile network access, and often those that did have the right to resell, the MNO had the right of refusal. 

The practical outcome is that the MNO will typically strike bigger deals (often only as little as one a year or every few years) or strategic deals directly as MVNOs, with typically smaller opportunities requiring less customisation done via MVNEs. Other factors to consider are:
  • an MVNE can have a service up and running in weeks/months, a direct MVNO is at least 6 months.
  • An MVNE enabled MVNO will cost a general order of magnitude of 5-10 times less to set-up than a direct MVNO (like for like).
  • an MVNE enabled MVNO is less CAPEX but more OPEX intensive than the same direct MVNO, and vice-versa.
  • In general terms the MVNE is a port of call if you are looking at 10,000s to low 100,000 subscribers, the MVNO direct will be high hundreds - again, this is speaking generally to give a sense of scale.
  • Revenue guarantees, liabilities and other "nasties" are generally more digestible with MVNEs...
originally posted by Christian Borrman 20:43pm 10/11/06, updated at publish date below

What is an MVNA?

An MVNA is a new term (at date of original publish), coined only recently, around the irony mentioned in the last paragraph above; that the network operators are recognising MVNO opportunities individually, but it is only as a group that they may be enough in volume to attract the operator. Generally the difference is that an MVNA will go after a particular market or sector like a white label. The reason for this is that primarily, although all mobile services may look alike, they all have different needs and requirements, while the MVNO and MVNE will typically try to cater for all potential requirements that come their way, and MVNA may try to adapt their service for a particular sector, like travel, roaming, or the first examples were to capture many niche markets such as all the football brands: ACME MVNA would get an MVNO agreements, create a "football focussed service" and resell to all the football clubs. This could mean signing just a few 1000s subscribers in each club, but in total would be 10,000s or even 100,000s in the UK for example. 
originally posted by Christian Borrman 21:32pm 10/11/06, updates at publish date below

What is an MVNx?

An MVNx is the newest generation of mobile enablers that bridge the gap between MVNA and MVNE allowing a more flexible model for their MVNO brands, the first of these was Conecto founded in 2014 with various rounds of VC and built and managed by Virtuser. The essence of a flexible MVNx is cloud MVNO platforms which make the adding of connectivity to bare metal cloud, scaling the resources available to a given MVNO as well as the global location / expansion of an MVNO anywhere in the world with the same infrastructure, API set, etc possible.

Read the MVNO success models and MVNO failure models implementing these MVNO definitions


  1. Very informative. Thank you for the post.

  2. HI Sunil, You are welcome, thanks for reading and your comment! Christian

  3. Very useful and clear thanks. I have a question here, I'm trying to understand which tier of telecommunication service providers would be the same as MVNO? I mean we have MNOs as tier 1, and also we have tier 2 and 3. So does this mean that MVNOs would be tier 2 and the wholesalers at lower level are tier 3?

    1. Hi, its an interesting question, and depends on your definition of tiers; in its strictest sense, probably only Telefonica in the MNO world is a tier 1 MNO, let alone the MVNOs!

      If we take the wider view, with Tier 3 being resellers, then the MVNE/As would be Tier 3, not MVNOs, with the MVNO peering with its host. If you want to get pedantic you could say only a full MVNO falls into this tier 2 category however...

      Hope this helps!