The success stories of the best MVNOs

The Mobile Virtual Network Operators have a huge business opportunity. This means the best MVNO profits can lead up to millions of dollars. 

There are multiple types of MVNOs out there and they have inspiring success stories. Each of them has a particular business model. This shows just how adaptable this field can be.

MVNO list - How many types of MVNOs are there?

The MVNO list contains broadly four categories:

  • Skinny MVNOs
    They have no ownership of any network equipment or infrastructure and provide services through its dedicated customer care, marketing, and sales operations.
  • Light MVNOs
    Apart from incorporating the elements of a skinny MVNO, this type also works its own distribution operations and can set their own pricing model independent of the plans offered by the MNO they partner with.
  • Thick MVNOs
    These are more self-sufficient service providers who own and manage their infrastructure, such as GMSC for voice services, GGSN for data services, and HSS/HLR for services to the subscribers. Also, they implement their own billing system.
  • Full MVNOs
    As the name suggests, these are the highest category level as they own the entire core network equipment and infrastructure, short of having a dedicated radio network.
LTE MVNO diagram

Understanding the history of MVNOs

The earliest application of the MVNO concept can be seen way back in the 1990s in Europe. With liberal markets and new regulatory frameworks in place, the telecom technologies became an instant hit among subscribers.

Sense Communications was the first one able to establish an MVNO agreement with Sonera in Finland, but it failed to persuade MNOs in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. Sense then appealed to EU regulators, citing provisions that required certain MNOs to allow new entrants interconnection. Sense’s claim was denied and it took until 1999 for the agreement between them and Telia/Telenor Mobile to be in place to realize the potential of opening up and maximizing the GSM services among Scandinavian mobile users.

And within a decade, the business model found wide acceptance in the US as well, where the MVNO list grew to almost 40 by 2008.

The success is marked by the growth of the market share in terms of subscribers. Also, the revenue among the top MVNOs is huge when millions of users every year switch to an MVNO provider.

What are the benefits of MVNOs that led to such success?

  • Niche markets
    ✓ The best MVNO companies are known as operators that serve a certain niche market.
    ✓ MVNOs buy network services like “prepaid minutes” from the top MNOs and sells at a discounted price under its own brand name to its own subscriber list using cheaper routes.
  • Reduces costs
    ✓ The profitability of the business model lies in the fact an MVNO has reduced costs because it does not have to buy spectrum licenses or maintain the RAN infrastructure.
    ✓ Since an MVNO only serves a niche market, its marketing costs are reduced. A big MNO's main costs are marketing related because he must advertise to a lot of different markets.
Best MVNO target niche market

This a win-win situation for every party, as the MNO also benefits from its agreement with the MVNO. Leading MNOs always have some unused capacity to offload, and by letting this to be used by the MVNOs, they are also supplementing their own revenues.

List of top MVNOs and their success business models

A close look at the most popular MVNOs operating today will help illustrate the success story of their business model. While some people try to point out the various limitations such as limited choice of phone models or data usage, the advantages of low-priced plans with a wide range of choices far outweigh the drawbacks.

According to the customer service satisfaction rankings the top MVNOs in the United States are: 

  • 1.
    ✓ Consumer Cellular was founded in 1995 and the initial goal was to offer low-cost telecom services to all ages users. In 2008 they positioned themselves as the operator to market extensively to the over-50 demographic.
    ✓ When speaking about the phones selection they mainly aimed toward the elderly market segment. The company grew beyond smartphones in 2018 when they added the GrandPad, an easy to use tablet created for older users.
    ✓ In 2019 Consumer Cellular has reached 3.5 million users which places it among the best MVNO companies.
  • 2.
    ✓ Ting works both as a leading MVNO and ISP (internet service provider). Their quarter-million subscribers are using the Radio network from Sprint for CDMA and T-Mobile for GSM, as well as the FTH (fiber-to-the-home) symmetrical gigabit internet, all over the United States.
    ✓ This MVNO developed its business model to create a strong and loyal relationship with its customers. This is the reason why Ting is practicing month-to-month pricing based on the consumption reports. So users will pay exactly for how much they use each month.
    ✓ Ting adopted a distinctive marketing strategy based on the loyal customer's referrals to gain new subscribers.
  • 3.
    ✓ Republic Wireless point of difference is the usage of WiFi networks by default. Whenever WiFi is unavailable, this MVNO falls back to use the Radio networks of either Sprint or T-Mobile.
    ✓ This kind of business model makes Republic Wireless able to offer low-priced services because they don't have to pay the MNO for all the traffic used by its subscribers. WiFi is the main connection used and the MNO's RAN is the second technical solution to provide service.
    ✓ Their business model primarily uses their proprietary VoIP application for Android smartphones that makes possible the fallback. This business model has lead the number of customers subscribed to the company's service totaled several hundred thousand.
  • 4.
    ✓ This is the only skinny MVNO that made our list. Metro by T-Mobile is relevant because it shows the importance of marketing for an operator. Metro doesn't own any network elements, but they operate their own client database with customer care and sales departments.
    ✓ The thing that makes Metro special is the large selection of smartphones with only 4 data plans in 2019. They are rated as the best MVNO in terms of unlimited data offers. Also, some service packets include Amazon Prime or Google One memberships.
  • 5.
    ✓ In terms of coverage, offering both GSM and CDMA network services, Straight Talk is one of the best MVNO. It has partnerships with each of the Big Four service providers in the US – Verizon and Sprint for CDMA, and T-Mobile and AT&T for GSM.
    ✓ The interesting fact about Straight Talk is that they have a joint-venture agreement with Walmart that makes Walmart its exclusive retailer.
    ✓ Straight Talk keeps its subscribers happy by offering discount prices automatic refill plans. This means a regular subscriber will enjoy both low-prices and great coverage.

Yate-based solutions for MVNOs

  • YateUCN

    ✔ A unified GSM and LTE Core Network that implements in software the functions of GMSC, GGSN and PGW
    ✔ YateUCN uses the HLR to localize the MSC/VLR of the called subscriber and routes the call to the designated MSC/VLR in the MNO network.
    ✔ It establishes and maintains the IP sessions of the subscriber and routes the IP packets to the SGSN in the MNO network.
  • YateHSS

    ✔ A software implemented product that provides the functionalities of LTE HSS and GSM HLR.
    ✔ You can use this product for both Circuit-switching and Packet-switching, so your subscribers can roam from a 4G network to a 2G/3G network and back.
  • YateSMSC

    ✔ A SMSC with the functions of receiving, forwarding, storing and delivering SMSs in GSM, UMTS, LTE or custom networks.
    ✔ Uses standard SS7/MAP and SMPP interfaces.
    ✔ USSD services are included in YateSMSC.

Best MVNO using Yate technology

  • 1.
    "We are very pleased with all your products, they work as expected, and at a fraction of the cost of the "big players" in the sector. If there is any incompatibility with other providers, SS7Ware are capable, in a few hours to create a patch and fix it. The support is very professional, and always find solutions to the challenges. We wish to be your clients for many and many years."
  • 2.
    "With Yate platform delivered by the Romanian technology vendor Null Team, we were able to set up Full MVNO interconnection with MNO partner in extremely short period of time. The solution covered new technology platform configuration (voice - GMSC and data - YateUCN platform) and commissioning work as well as integration work with MNO partner. Due to the closed O&M contract, we have been able to work remotely and effectively. Null Team has a team of skilled professionals with a high level of technical expertise."
  • 3.
    "Yate has been a central and important partner to Wavely for the last 12 months and has proven to be very competent both technically and business wise. They have shown a strong ability both to understand our business and to technically support it."

Types of tests for MVNO Startup

Even if you have a clear idea about the kind of virtual operator you want to be and your MVNO business model is in place, you still need to test the services you need to provide. 

The VoLTE Lab is a fully configured and functional test suite for Voice-over-LTE and a full LTE/GSM network that includes:

LTE LabKit – configurable test eNodeB/BTS
MiniCore – software-defined compact IMS Core Network
✔ Two iPhone 6s – UE with good VoLTE implementation

  • ✔ Calls - the duration and number of calls
    ✔ SMSs
    ✔ Data Sessions
  • Roaming
    ✔ How are the services working when roaming
    ✔ The average timeline of authentication when roaming
  • Billing platform
    ✔ If the charging system works appropriately
  • Testing in the operator’s own radio network
    ✔ Getting experience before entering the tests with the MNO