Guide to Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO)

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Guide to Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO)

If you don’t get a decent signal around your home with one mobile phone network, you just switch to another and it’s problem-solved, right?

Well, that’s actually not always the case. It comes down to whether you’ve switched mobile network operators, or just changed to a different mobile virtual network operator using the same host. It sounds a little confusing, but it’s really quite simple to understand.

Our quick guide to help you figure it out will only take a few minutes to read.

What is a Mobile Network Operator (MNO)?

It’s pretty self-explanatory. These are the companies that own and operate a network. Each network will have slightly different coverage, but all aim to offer a good service across the UK.

The mobile network is what allows you to send/receive calls and texts, and connect to the internet via your mobile data.

When you have low signal, it’s because your network coverage is poor or unavailable in your current location. Bear in mind that the weather, your particular phone model, and the geography of your area can also impact your signal, before you blame your current provider!

In the UK, there are a four MNOs:

  • EE
  • O2
  • Three
  • Vodafone

Don’t panic if your mobile network isn’t one of those. Other mobile networks in the UK are what we call mobile virtual network operators, instead.

What is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)?

A mobile virtual network operator doesn’t have the resources, money or desire to own and operate their own network. So instead, they rent space so that they can “piggyback” on one (or multiple) of the four MNOs listed above.

MVNOs can change their network host from time to time, but currently, here is a list of who is piggybacking on who.

EE Network

MVNOs using the EE network only, include:

  • BT Mobile
  • Ecotalk
  • Plusnet Mobile
  • IQ Mobile

O2 Network

Currently using the O2 network as their only provider:

  • giffgaff
  • Lycamobile
  • Sky Mobile
  • TalkTalk Mobile
  • Tesco Mobile

Three Network

On the Three network, you’ll find these MVNOs:

  • FreedomPop
  • iD Mobile
  • Superdrug Mobile

Vodafone Network

The Vodafone network is host to these mobile virtual network operators:

  • Lebara Mobile
  • Talkmobile
  • VOXI

MVNOs Using Multiple MNOs

To offer better and wider coverage across the UK, some mobile phone companies will use multiple MNOs.

  • Asda Mobile – EE + Vodafone
  • Virgin Mobile – EE + Vodafone
  • Anywhere SIM – O2 + Vodafone + EE + Three
  • Flexiroam – O2 + Three
  • Jump – O2 + Vodafone + EE + Three
  • Network Rail – O2 + Vodafone + EE + Three
  • Pebble Mobile Network – O2 + Vodafone + EE + Three

Can’t find your mobile network here? Contact your network provider and ask them.

Which Network Should You Choose?

When it comes to coverage, all four main MNOs cover 99% of the country and no one yet offers complete 5G support across the UK, so there is no one clear winner. Regardless, sometimes one network can provide better coverage for one area than another.

A quick way to get a general idea of the coverage in your area is to use this Signal Checker. You just need to put in your postcode, and it will tell you the signal results for Three, O2, Vodafone, and EE.

When you know which network operator will be best for you, all you need to do is switch contracts or find a SIM-only deal.