What are MVNOs, and how are they so cheap?
An MVNO, also known as a mobile virtual network operator, is a network that pays to rent the infrastructure from one of the 4 major networks in the UK (EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone).
An MVNO is able to sell plans and contracts under their own brand. They set their own prices and offer their own support.
Since MVNOs do not need to invest in or maintain their own infrastructure, they can pass down the savings to customers, offering considerably cheaper plans compared to the 4 main networks.
Networks choose to lease their infrastructure to MVNOs since their network capacity is rarely at 100%. As a result, they can make more money by renting out any excess capacity they have left over.
Currently, MVNOs have a 20% market share in the UK, with over 18 million subscribers. This amount is growing rapidly, mainly due to more competition and cheaper costs.
MVNOs have the same level of coverage and reliability as the main networks. However, not every MVNO will offer 5G, even if the provider they use has a 5G network. This is because the providers will charge the MVNOs more to have access to their 5G network. For example, Plusnet has a maximum signal of 4G, even though they use EE, who have a 5G network.
One of the main disadvantages of MVNOs is that they generally don’t have the same level of support as the main networks. Most only offer online support, and for those that do have call centres, most likely aren’t within the UK.
Some MVNOs are subsidiary companies of the provider network. For example, SMARTY is a subsidiary of Three, and VOXI is a subsidiary of Vodafone.
- How are MVNOs so cheap?
- Will I receive the same coverage and speed with an MVNO?
- What are the negatives of MVNOs?
- What are the benefits of MVNOs?
- Which networks do MVNOs use?
How are MVNOs so cheap?
MVNOs are often considerably cheaper compared to the main networks for a variety of reasons.
Since an MVNO does not need to create or maintain their own network infrastructure, their running costs are very low. These savings can then be passed onto the customer.
Furthermore, MVNOs often don’t offer the same level of support. Most MVNOs only offer online support, which can have a slow response time. For those that do have call centres, they are likely to be located abroad.
In addition, you generally don’t get any bells and whistles with MVNOs, such as extras and benefits. With the main networks, it’s possible to get benefits such as free cinema tickets, Apple Music, Netflix and various other discounts.
In recent years, there’s been increased competition in the MVNO space, which has driven down prices considerably. The main reason for an increase in competition is because it’s easier than ever to become an MVNO.
Will I receive the same coverage and speed with an MVNO?
In accordance with Ofcom rules, the main networks are required to deliver the same coverage and reliability to MVNOs, without prioritising their own network or restricting services.
However, in terms of speed and signal, an MVNO must pay more to the provider to have access to their 5G network. Most MVNOs do pay the extra amount for 5G, and are therefore able to deliver identical speeds. One noticeable exception is Plusnet - the MVNO only offers a maximum speed of 4G, even though they use EE, who actually have a 5G network.
In addition, some MVNOs may choose to restrict speeds for their cheaper unlimited data plans. For example, with Asda Mobile’s £20 per month unlimited data plan, there’s a 2 Mbps speed limit. However, there’s no speed limit for the £30 per month unlimited data plan.
What are the negatives of MVNOs?
The main negative of MVNOs is you generally don’t get the same level of support. Most MVNOs only offer online support. As a result, if something goes wrong, you may find it harder to get help and find a solution. For the MVNOs that do have call centres, most are located abroad, unlike with the main networks, who have their call centres within the UK, and also have physical shops where you can receive support.
Furthermore, you don’t get any free extras or benefits with most MVNOs. The main networks often have free offers and discounts, such as Netflix, Apple Music and cinema tickets. With MVNOs, there are no thrills available.
What are the benefits of MVNOs?
The main benefit of MVNOs is that they are often substantially cheaper compared to the main networks, with more data for less money.
In addition, it’s very easy to switch to an MVNO. All you need to do is text for a PAC code to transfer your number.
Furthermore, most MVNOs only offer short term 1 month / 30 day contracts, meaning you don’t need to commit to a long term contract. You can change or cancel a plan whenever you like, without early termination fees. This gives you far more freedom to choose the network you want.
Which networks do MVNOs use?
Some MVNOs use one network, however there are some MVNOs which use multiple networks:
|Anywhere SIM||EE, O2, Three, Vodafone||No|
|The Phone Co-op||EE||Yes|
What is an MVNO?
An MVNO, also known as a mobile virtual network operator, is a network that rents its infrastructure from one of the 4 major networks (EE, O2, Vodafone and Three). With lower costs, an MVNO is able to deliver cheaper plans, and offer very competitive prices.
How are MVNOs so cheap?
MVNOs are so cheap because they don’t have to invest in or maintain their own network infrastructure, as they rent the infrastructure from another network.
In addition, MVNOs generally don’t offer the same level of support, meaning they cost less to run. Most MVNOs only offer online support.
Will I get the same coverage and signal with an MVNO?
Yes, you will get the same coverage and reliability with an MVNO, and you will most likely get the same 5G signal.
However, there are some exceptions when it comes to signal. Plusnet only offer a maximum signal of 4G, even though they use EE, who have a 5G network.
Are MVNOs as fast compared to the main networks?
Yes, MVNOs are generally as fast as the main networks, with the same 5G speeds. There are some exceptions, such as Plusnet, who only offer a maximum signal of 4G, even though they use EE, who have a 5G network.
Can I get a phone contract with an MVNO?
Yes, most MVNOs offer phone contracts, as well as SIM only deals.
Can I still roam in the EU with an MVNO?
Yes, you can roam in the EU with all MVNOs. However, since Brexit, some may charge for EU roaming. See our article on EU roaming for more information.