What’s the difference between MNO, MVNO & MVNA?

MNO, MVNO, MVNA, and MVNE play important roles in cellular IoT. Here we break down the differences.
Ben Forgan
April 28, 2021
Aerial view of mobile phone cell tower over forested rural area of West Virginia to illustrate lack of broadband internet service

What’s the difference between MNO, MVNO & MVNA?

We were like you once. We wanted to print food orders from our website to a restaurant using cellular technology. Back then, in 2013, obtaining and managing our cellular connectivity was a nightmare.

All the services we tried had terrible customer support, user interfaces straight out of 1998, and poor or non-existent APIs. Nothing existed to simply use an API to send data to the cloud and then route it wherever you wanted, and the challenges associated with cellular connectivity were many.

So we decided to solve those challenges.

We quickly realized that to build something that was useful for folks trying to build cellular connected devices, we needed to work with and maintain a truly mind-boggling stack — from cell tower to bare metal.

We hoped to create a software-only solution, but as time went on it became clear that hardware was key to improving time-to-value for developers. Also, building our own hardware forced us to consider (and solve) many of the key end-to-end problems with cellular, including how to update device firmware remotely, how to handle power management for notoriously power hungry cellular modems, and how to navigate the world of MNO, MVNO and MVNAs.

Throughout all our trials and tribulations, we learned that the major failure of all current cellular solutions is that they are, almost exclusively, antiquated and piecemeal. You get a SIM card here, integrate with a cloud there, read some book from the 80s to figure out how cellular networks work, learn how to write AT commands, figure out certification, and so on. It can be a nightmare.

But it’s a nightmare you can avoid because we help connect devices to the internet with our cellular platform for Internet of Things. It also means you don’t have to know the difference between an MNO, an MVNO, and a MVNE, or even a MVNA. But, if you really want to know, we’ll help. See the below paragraphs.

Rather than studying MNOs, we suggest you learn more about Subscriber Identity Modules or SIMs and embedded SIM technology because that’s really where the rubber meets the road. Or, jump over to learn how to get started with eUICC for your IoT deployment if you know a little about SIMs.

If we’ve convinced you that you don’t need to learn about the MNO acronyms, but you want to learn a little more about us, skip to the end of this post so you can learn what neat things you can do with the Hologram IoT platform.

What Is an MNO (Mobile Network Operator)?

A Mobile Network Operator is a wireless telecommunications company that owns a radio spectrum license or that controls access to that license. Typically, the Mobile Network Operator has all of the infrastructure it needs to sell and deliver services to customers, which often includes back office services such as billing, marketing, customer service, and provisioning as well as the wireless network and back haul infrastructure needed to provide the services.

A Mobile Network Operator can outsource some of its business functions, but the key is that the MNO owns or controls radio spectrum licenses. Well known MNOs in the United States include Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T.

Every MNO has a list of carriers they have partnerships with, and your device will only connect to those on the partnership list. To connect to other cellular networks, you need specialized components on your Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs).

What is a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator)?

The Mobile Virtual Network Operator is essentially a reseller of wireless technology. It doesn't own its own radio network but buys services from a Mobile Network Operator such as AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon and then resells its services to consumers or businesses.

In the U.S., notable MVNO brands include Consumer Cellular, Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless.

What makes this business model successful is that these companies offer better prices to select audiences. Consumer Cellular offers affordable plans for seniors, as one example.

What is a MVNE (Mobile Virtual Network Enabler)?

A Mobile Virtual Network Enabler (MVNE) supplies network infrastructure and services to a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, which allows the MVNO to offer services to its customers.

Services that a MVNE typically provides include network planning, implementation and management, which could include SIM provisioning, billing, and customer management among other business services.

Think of the MVNE as a solution provider that helps smaller MVNOs get started quickly by handling network infrastructure, administration, and operational support systems.

What is a MVNA (Mobile Virtual Network Aggregator)?

A Mobile Virtual Network Aggregator is akin to a wholesale business model. A MVNA takes an operator’s airtime and routes it to a number of small MNVOs, which allows the smaller operators to get better pricing.

Hologram makes IoT SIM cards in all form factors, including the eSIM (MFF2). Our hardware-agnostic global SIM card or chip allows you to connect to every network in every country and automatically switch carriers to make sure your device has the best available service (2G, 3G, 4G LTE, 5G, and CAT-M1), wherever it may be.

Because we are hardware agnostic and allow you to connect to every network, you really don’t need to know the difference between MNOs, MVNOs and the like.

With Hologram you can do neat things such as:

  • Connect: use our cloud-friendly cellular network to connect any device to the internet cheaply and easily.
  • Interact: use our software to talk to your device and route your incoming and outgoing messages, all via a secure and scalable API.
  • Build: use our cellular development kit, the Dash, to create a new connected device in minutes.
  • Manage: use our management tools to see your devices and update their software wirelessly.

We are building new products and adding features that make it easier for you to use the Internet to get your data from the field and make the data useful.

Get started with Hologram today

  • Talk to an IoT expert
  • Receive a free SIM
  • Customize your plan