Understanding MVNOs and 5G Networks

MVNO graphic

In the United States there are but a handful of major wireless providers: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and soon to be DISH, also known as Major Network Operators or MNOs. Though they account for providing most of the nation’s wireless networks, they also supply small companies looking to serve particular markets with wireless spectrum so that consumers can have additional carrier options. These companies are called mobile virtual network operators, or, MVNOs.

What is an MVNO?

An MVNO is a wireless provider that offers coverage to its consumers but uses another company’s infrastructure to do so. The rest of the normal functions of a wireless provider may still be within the realm of an MVNO but the spectrum that is being used is not their own. Some of the most popular MVNOs in the market include Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, and TracFone.

Though MVNOs don’t own their spectrum, don’t be fooled. Many still offer great coverage and can be a viable option for many markets or those looking for wireless coverage for a lower monthly rate. The building out of more and more 5G networks is boosting the way MVNOs provide coverage with the fifth generation of wireless bringing forth new speeds and capabilities.

They may not be for everyone but MVNOs have their place in the wireless landscape and can be of great benefit to many consumers. By helping said consumers and providing options to some markets that may otherwise lack options, MVNOs continue to evolve and find their place in the wireless world. Learn more about how MVNOs are set to take on the next generation of wireless through 5G networks across America.

How do MVNOs Work?

The basics of how an MVNO operates is pretty simple. A mobile network operator (MNO) sells its unused spectrum to MVNOs at a wholesale price and allows them to use their network to service customers in markets that are either hard to reach or more expensive due to costs.

MVNOs are smaller companies that avoid hefty startup costs by using an established network. Setting up a wireless network can cost millions to billions of dollars. When you account for spectrum licenses, securing vendors, and the materials and manpower needed for building the necessary infrastructure, starting a wireless company can have lofty barriers of entry. MVNOs help larger carriers grow their subscribers indirectly and can provide a steady stream of revenue to MNOs while providing a needed service for the consumer.

MVNOs vs MNOs: The Pros and Cons

MVNOs come with their own set of benefits and negatives as does anything in life. For millions of Americans, they are the best wireless option available and can provide plenty of value to those looking to gain a connection to 5G networks:

  • Many MVNOs offer cheaper plans to consumers. Due to their ability to cut costs associated with maintaining a network, they are capable of passing these savings to the customer.
  • MVNOs can offer access to markets that aren’t marketed to or available to particular segments through MNOs.
  • You receive the same network coverage as others despite the lower rate.

On the surface, one may wonder why anyone is even using an MNO with those benefits. Is it the name recognition? Brand loyalty? While MVNOs have plenty of useful benefits, they also come with their own set of drawbacks:

  • Your data speeds may be throttled and performance is given second-priority to those who subscribe to an MNO whose network you are connecting to.
  • Many MVNOs offer a bring your own device (BYOD) option, however, in the grand scheme of things, MVNOs are more limited with the phones that are available for use.
  • Even with recent improvements, MVNOs have less of a physical presence in the world, and customer service may be harder to access than that of a major carrier.

Top MVNOs With 5G Access

There are many MVNOs but currently, only a select few that either use 5G or are planning to do so soon. Please keep in mind that coverage is always subject to change and some MVNOs may not offer 5G in your area, however, in recent years, there is a notable effort to supply customers with fast, reliable wireless through alternative means outside of major networks. For a comprehensive look at MVNOs in America, take a look here, and to get to know the MVNOs leading the way as 5G networks spread across the United States, take a look below:

MVNOMajor Network UsedOwned By5G Capability
Boost MobileT-MobileDISH NetworkYes
Cricket WirelessAT&TAT&TNo, but it is coming soon
Google FiMultiple carriersGoogleYes, but T-Mobile only
Liberty WirelessT-MobileTelePlus Wireless Corp.No, but it is coming soon
Metro by T-MobileT-MobileT-MobileYes
TracFoneAT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon*VerizonNo
US MobileT-Mobile, VerizonGSM NationYes
Xfinity MobileVerizonComcastYes

*Since the sale of TracFone from América Móvil to Verizon, it is expected that Verizon will play a more predominant role in supplying the MVNO with its wireless network.

MVNOs continue to work towards providing faster speeds as more and more MNOs unleash their 5G networks. Their place in the market is still not as widespread as major carriers, but with capabilities and coverage rising, MVNOs fill important gaps within the wireless landscape. It remains to be seen how 5G will continue to push innovative telecom companies, but with its ability to streamline wireless communications, the MVNO-space within 5G is an interesting one to watch.