What is a MNO (Mobile Network Operator)?

A Mobile Network Operator (MNO) is a telecoms entity that provides wireless voice and data services to mobile phone subscribers.

Also known as a wireless service provider, wireless carrier, cellular company, or mobile network carrier, MNOs are providers of wireless communication services that own or control all the elements necessary to deliver services to customers.

This includes:

  • Radio spectrum allocation: The airwaves used for transmitting signals
  • Wireless network infrastructure: This includes the cell towers, base stations, and switches that make up the network.
  • SIM cards: Identify subscribers and store their information.
  • Core network: This handles call routing, data transmission, and billing.

Well-known MNOs in the United States include Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T.

How do MNOs deliver services?

MNOs build a network of telecoms infrastructure including base stations and transmitter masts, and the supporting software, to create a communication network that it can then sell access to for delivering telecommunications between end-user devices in the form of voice, data, and video. You interact with MNOs daily when you make calls, send texts, or use mobile data.

Each subscriber mobile device is allocated a unique code by the MNO called an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) so that they can access the network services that they are allowed to as part of their phone contract, often ranging from 12 to 24 months.  If they are not local subscribers, then a roaming agreement must be in place between the MNO that they are connecting to and the one that they subscribe to.

Infobip has direct connections with over 400 MNOs globally which ensure that our customers’ global telecom traffic is routed via the quickest and most cost-effective path.

What is the difference between MNO and MVNO?

In essence, MNOs are the backbone of mobile connectivity, while MVNOs offer more flexibility and specialized services by leveraging the existing infrastructure of MNOs.

Here is an in-depth comparison of the two:

FeatureMobile Network Operator
Mobile Virtual Network Operator
Network ownershipOwns and operates its own network infrastructure (towers, base stations, etc.)Does not own network infrastructure; leases network capacity from an MNO
Service deliveryOffers services directly to end-users (consumers and businesses)Resells services from an MNO under its own brand and often with unique features or pricing
Infrastructure investmentHeavily invests in building and maintaining network infrastructureNo infrastructure investment; focuses on marketing, customer service, and unique value propositions
Control over networkFull control over network configuration, coverage, and qualityLimited control over network; relies on the MNO for coverage and quality


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Jul 15th, 2024
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