What Is an MVNO?

What Is an MVNO?
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If you're in the market for a new phone, you might recognize the acronym MVNO. And when you don't even know what that means, trying to find the best one can be stressful.

MVNO stands for mobile virtual network operator. This may sound complex, but it's not as complicated as you might think. Here's everything you need to know about MVNOs and how to pick the best one.

What Is an MVNO?

If you're among the 85% of Americans with an iPhone or any other smartphone, chances are pretty high that you have a phone plan.

AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile are the three major carriers running their own wireless network infrastructure. Sprint was once the fourth big telecommunications business, but they've since merged with T-Mobile.

These big three mobile service providers are mobile network operators (MNOs) and host many MVNOs.

The business model is simple — MVNOs are resellers running their network connections off one of these three main carriers. MVNO customers get access to LTE connectivity at a slightly lower cost.

A mobile virtual network operator is essentially a carrier that does not have its own wireless network and must instead borrow its signal and coverage from a larger carrier. In addition to the big three MNOs, some MVNOs turn to U.S. Cellular for regional service coverage.

But why would you choose an MVNO over one of the major carriers for wireless service? The main reason is simply due to the price.

MVNOs Are Cheaper Than Major Carriers

MVNOs are offered at much cheaper and more accessible plans than those using one of the three main networks.

Of course, there's a pay-off. During peak times when the broadband network is bogged down, the major cellular plans will get priority over MVNOs. You might experience phone service interruptions or slower speeds during peak times or in crowded locations.

What Are the Most Popular MVNOs?

You've probably heard of MVNO services but never understood what they exactly did. If you're looking for the best MVNO cell phone plans, these are among the best.

  • Metro by T-Mobile
  • Cricket Wireless
  • Straight Talk
  • Boost Mobile
  • Visible
  • Mint Mobile
  • Google Fi
  • Xfinity Mobile

Metro by T-Mobile

Metro by T-Mobile is a prepaid phone plan with super transparent pricing. The prices already include tax and regulatory fees, so you'll know exactly what you're paying upfront.

The costs for their three unlimited data plans are accessible and cheap, especially when compared to juggernauts like Verizon.

The catch is that the coverage with Metro isn't the best. You can expect good service in most urban areas, but it might not be the ideal choice for a wireless communications service if you're in a rural town.

Cricket Wireless

Cricket Wireless is an MVNO powered by AT&T, and it has quickly become one of the most popular cell providers in the country because they dropped speed caps on their data plans. This means you can still enjoy fast data speeds even during peak times.

The plan is also attractively priced compared to traditional plans, so you can enjoy unlimited talk and text without breaking the bank.

Straight Talk

Straight talk is a no-contract phone plan that shares its network with the three major service providers. No contracts, flexible payment options, and add-on features are available.

The downsides are that there are no family plans for discounts on multiple phone lines, and data can also be a little slow compared to the major cell providers.

Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile operates on T-Mobile's network and AT&T's network, offering a variety of prepaid plans as low as $8.33 per month.

With that said, there are added fees for bringing new phones onto the plan. Also, many customers have experienced issues ordering their SIM cards online, so definitely visit a Boost mobile location to have them help you set everything up.


Visible by Verizon is less of an MVNO and more of an extension of the Verizon company. Visible is its own full-stack wireless carrier, offering a great unlimited plan.

It also has some great deals for family plans, and you can even try it for 15 days before you decide to buy. Additionally, data is deprioritized unless you upgrade your plan.

Mint Mobile

If you've seen Ryan Reynolds talking about cell phones, he's probably talking about Mint (he owns about 25% of the company). And this MVNO offers excellent value with limited and unlimited data plans to suit your needs.

It's a great value option, even if data speeds are on the slower side.

Google Fi

Google Fi is another outlier in MVNOs because it's a bit pricier than many prepaid phone plans. However, there are no contracts and exceptional national and international calling coverage, and you can gain access to the Google Pixel Pass as long as you have a Pixel phone.

This is an excellent option, especially if you have a Google device.

Xfinity Mobile

Xfinity relies on Verizon's network, including its signature 5G coverage. You can also get an Xfinity mobile plan if you get your internet from Comcast, the parent company.

Not only do they offer new phones to their customers upon sign-up, but they also offer low-priced data plans that drop down even lower if you add more lines.

How Can You Sign Up for an MVNO?

Signing up for an MVNO is easy, and you have several options. Perhaps the easiest is going to a physical MVNO location near you.

You can search for the plan you're interested in and then visit a physical retailer to ask questions and get set up. You can even discuss with the mobile carriers that offer these plans. For instance, if you're considering going with Metro, you can visit a T-Mobile retailer to help get started.

Or, you can do almost everything online. On the MVNO's website, you can sign up for a plan right then and there. All you'll need to do is get a phone and a SIM card to be able to start using the services.

In this process, you may run across yet another acronym: MVNE. MVNEs are mobile virtual network enablers, which are entities that provide business administration, customer support, and marketing for mobile services.


An MVNO, or a mobile virtual network operator, is a wireless cell plan that does not function on its own network. For that reason, it shares the networks of the three major cell providers: Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

MVNOs are affordable options for people looking to get a cheap phone plan — even if you might have slower data speeds or lost coverage. While we mentioned the most popular MVNOs, other options worth considering include Tello and Consumer Cellular.

Using an MVNO can be an affordable way to add a second business phone to an existing line without breaking the bank. And if you're working on scaling your business to new heights, this can be precisely what you need.

Dialed is a macro tool for your micro business, letting you manage your business from your smartphone. Download today to get started.


Mobile Fact Sheet | Pew Research

What is a Bandwidth Cap? | Internet Speed Test

What is broadband and why is broadband access important? | HealthIT.gov

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