What is an MVNO?

When it comes to phone plans in Australia, you might have seen the term ‘MVNO’ a few times, and wondered what it is. And perhaps more importantly, if it makes a difference to your phone plan and service.

In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about MVNOs, so read on to find out more.

What is an MVNO and how do they work?

MVNO stands for ‘Mobile Virtual Network Operator’. This essentially means that an MVNO is a telco which can offer phone plans to customers; however, it does not own the mobile network technology used to deliver those services.

In Australia, there are three mobile networks, each owned by the telcos often referred to as ‘the big three’ — Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Because these telcos each own their respective networks, buying a phone plan directly from them can give customers increased network access, such as 5G coverage.

This is why many customers assume that you need to be on a plan from one of these providers in order to receive good coverage. That’s not always the case, and we’ll explain in more detail further down the page.

Typically MVNOs are smaller companies, and perhaps independently owned, however some of them are part of an umbrella company with — or owned by — one of the big three. MVNOs purchase network service at wholesale prices, and can often provide cheaper plans than the big three, as they have less costs associated with running the network.

Most MVNOs also forgo adding on extras such as entertainment bonuses and the option of buying new devices. However, a few MVNOs do offer phones on a plan. Even if the device will cost you the same with the bigger telcos, the cheaper bundled phone plan often means MVNOs can deliver cheaper phone-on-a-plan prices overall.

Pros and cons of MVNOs

Whether or not you should choose a plan from an MVNO depends on your circumstances and what you’re looking for in a phone plan. There are pros and cons to picking up a phone plan from an MVNO, so we’ll break this down.

Pros:

  • Often cheaper and better value for money (more data at cheaper prices)
  • Cheap plans around $10 mark great for kids or light phone users
  • Wider choice of plans and providers
  • A good option if you already have a phone you’re happy with

Cons:

  • Smaller selection of devices if you buy a phone on a plan from the few MVNOs that offer handsets
  • Might not have full network access depending on the MVNO and network
  • Rarely any extras included, such as sports streaming, free subscriptions, etc
  • 5G plans (if offered) can be more expensive

Which Australian telcos are MVNOs?

The majority of telcos in Australia are MVNOs, considering that only three telcos actually own and operate their own networks. Some MVNOs choose to use the Telstra wholesale network (which is a smaller network than the full Telstra network), while others choose Optus or Vodafone. Optus also offers MVNOs the option to sell 5G plans to customers using the Optus 5G network.

Some of these telcos are well-known names in Aussie households — such as Woolworths Mobile and Boost Mobile — while others might be brands you’ve never heard of — such as Yomojo and Moose Mobile. There are dozens of MVNOs in Australia, and at Canstar Blue, we compare plans from over 30 MVNOs to help you find the right phone plan for your needs, and to show Australians what kind of value for money you can get from a wide range of telcos.

As already mentioned, MVNOs need to use one of the three mobile networks to deliver services to customers. Below we’ll list some of the most well-known and popular MVNOs across the three different networks.

Telstra mobile network

Telstra is the widest mobile network in Australia and was the first telco to start its 5G rollout. However, when it comes to MVNOs on the Telstra network, they tend to draw the short straw of the deal. Telstra only allows MVNOs to access the Telstra wholesale network, which offers combined 3G and 4G coverage to 98.8% of the population, with 4G covering 97.9% of the population. Telstra’s full 4G network covers 99.4% of the population, which is a whole 1.5% of the population unable to access Telstra 4G coverage with an MVNO — unless you’ve signed up to Boost Mobile.

While Boost Mobile isn’t owned by Telstra, the two telcos have an agreement that sees Boost accessing the full Telstra 3G and 4G network. This means that extra 1.5% should find 4G coverage with a Boost plan.

It’s also important to note that, although Telstra is expanding and improving its 5G network, it currently does not offer 5G access to any MVNO. As to when this will change, remains unknown.

Telstra MVNOs

Optus mobile network

Optus operates the second largest mobile network in Australia, and is hot on the heels of Telstra with its 3G and 4G networks covering 98.5% of the population, with 97.3% covered by its 4G network alone. It also started rolling out its 5G network not long after Telstra, and is continuing to expand its coverage.

MVNOs using the Optus mobile network will have access to the full network, and currently, Optus is the only network operator to allow MVNOs to access its 5G network. So, if you’re after a 5G phone plan, you have a few Optus MVNOs to choose from, in addition to the big three telcos.

Optus MVNOs

Vodafone mobile network

Vodafone is a little bit more tight-lipped about its network coverage, claiming to cover 96% of the population with its 3G and 4G networks. It was the last telco to start its 5G rollout, and has been progressing slower than its competitors.

Currently Vodafone has a smaller number of MVNOs using its network, however, most of these brands are under the TPG Telecom umbrella, which also includes Vodafone since the TPG/Vodafone merger.

Vodafone MVNOs

Phone plans from MVNOs

When choosing a phone plan, it’s important to set a realistic budget. As much as we’d all like to sign up to a super-cheap phone plan, these plans will really only suit a small range of users. Once you’ve considered the inclusions you need, and how much you can afford for your phone plan, then you can compare plans. The below table shows a range of prepaid and postpaid plans from some MVNOs — simply switch between the tabs to compare prepaid and postpaid.

The following table shows a selection of MVNO postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our mobile phone plan comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

The following table shows a selection of MVNO prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our mobile phone plan comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

FAQs about MVNOs

The great thing about MVNOs is that if you’re looking for a cheap phone plan, or one with some great value for money, you’ll typically find a good deal.

However, this doesn’t mean that an MVNO plan will be the best option for you. The big three telcos might be more expensive, but they all sell a wide range of devices if you’re looking for a phone on a plan (especially iPhone plans). They also offer extras that you won’t be able to typically access from an MVNO.

These extras can also include free subscriptions to streaming services such as sports streaming, bundling options (including subscription bundling), entertainment extras, rewards programs and more. In the case of extras such as sports streaming, if you use these services, paying an extra $10 or so for your phone plan could make up for the price of the streaming subscription you’d pay for regardless.

As to which telco offers better value for your money — MVNOs or the big three — it all depends on how you view value. For some, the extras and add-ons might be worth the extra cash, not to mention the convenience of buying a phone on a plan. For others, that great value comes in the form of a simple phone plan with a good amount of data and a cheaper price.

Switching to an MVNO is fairly straightforward. If you have your own smartphone, or have bought one outright, all you’ll need is a SIM card from your new provider.

When you purchase your new plan and SIM card, you’ll need to decide if you’re keeping your current phone number or getting a new number. Once you’ve received your new SIM, you’ll need to activate your new service. If you’re porting your current phone number, your provider will sort out transferring your number across, just wait until your new service is setup before cancelling your old plan. If you’re using a new number, once you’ve activated your new plan and have service, simply contact your old provider and cancel. Be aware that, depending on your old plan, you may be required to pay a cancellation fee or pay off your final phone bill once you’ve cancelled.

There’s no doubt that you can find some great value for money by choosing a phone plan from an MVNO. But this really depends on what you need from a phone plan. This is why it helps to consider your plan needs, and then to compare plans from a wide range of providers — both MVNOs and the network operators.

If you’re looking for a premium phone on a plan, or maybe some added extras like sports streaming, you’ll pretty much need to sign up to a plan from one of the big three providers. If you’re looking for a simple low-cost plan with a small amount of data, an MVNO will likely have what you need.

Ultimately once you have a clear idea of what you want in a phone plan, and set a realistic budget, it helps to compare phone plans from a range of providers to find which plan will best suit your needs.

 

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