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Why your MVNOs "level" can affect your service Empty Why your MVNOs "level" can affect your service

Fri May 28, 2021 5:56 pm
Why your MVNOs "level" can affect your service

So after the issues that arose from the transition from Sprint/PWG to T-Mobile on Hello Mobile - along with discussions I've been involved in regarding Visible routing all their customer traffic through their own "virtual cloud" - I had to do some research.

My research found some interesting information:
1.  MVNOs actually come in up to four "levels"
2.  Those levels are dependent as to how much "in-house" technology each MVNO invests in.

At the core of the MVNO industry, the only thing required to be an MVNO is the reliance on the air interface network of a Mobile Network Operator, or MNO.
As for the rest, it can vary as to whether the MVNO provides it's own network for it's customers, or relies on the MNO for those services and features.

There are essentially 4 levels:

1. Skiny MVNO / Branded Reseller
This type of MVNO usually only offers services from one MNO, at the rates set by the MNO for the service.
They can only offer sales and support functions, as literally everything else is controlled by the MNO.
Many of these MVNO's can be BYOD only since they don't offer in-house device sales.
Though some Light MVNO's are actually skinny MVNOs that happen to sell their own devices / SIMs.

2. Light MVNO
This type of MVNO offers sales, service, logistics, and billing in house - allowing them to set their own rates.
These MVNO's can offer SIM and device sales and control Applications and Services in house.
Some of these Light MVNOs may own some of the core network themselves.
From here the MNO tends to control everything related to the actual network experience.
In most cases, SIM cards from these MVNOs are not branded or use the MVNOs Brand Name as the Network Name on devices.
Those with branded SIMs typically have an APN setting as "wholesale" - giving the MNO full network control.
Since the MNO is in charge of the network experience, they send usage and billing reports to the MVNO so the MVNO can bill their customers.
The MVNO must also report to the MNO when the bill is paid - and if there is any hiccup in that process can lead to service cut offs.
Many Sprint MVNO's fell into this category due to Sprint preferring to have more control over the network experience of all customers, including MVNOs.

Then we bump into a grey area - from here on out, the MVNO can actually control more of their customers' network experience - all depending on how much they invest for their own in-house technology.  This could be software and hardware - or be an invesment in their own cloud infrastrucure on a 3rd party service - like AWS.

3. Thick MVNO
Thicker MVNO's begin investing more into having a core network that they can route their own customers through.
This give the MVNO a little more control over the network experience, unless that investment is in a virtual core network through a 3rd party service - like AWS.

Those who have a full virtual core network via a 3rd party cloud service are still Thick MVNO's - even though they would quailify as a Full MVNO.
This is because the cloud network provider allows the MVNO to set the network parameters - which must alingn with the agreement with their MNOs.
However, the network access control and bandwith is still fully controled by the cloud network provider.
So while they would qualify as a Full MVNO, using a 3rd party cloud network provider keeps them under the status of Thick MVNO.

Other's could route some services into their own core network - while relying on the MNO to route the rest.

4. Full MVNO
These MVNOs run a full core network in-house, using their own servers and hosting.
This allows them full control over the user experience on their core network with only one exception.
That exception is that they still rely on the air interface network to route their customers' traffic into their own core networks.
Many full MVNOs also operate as MVNEs/MVNAs for smaller MVNOs - letting them use their own core networks.
Examples here are Tracfone, PWG/Liberty Wireless.

In the advent of IP-Only networks, like LTE/5G, it has become much easier - and cheaper - to become a thick/full MVNO.
This is because all traffic is routed through the IP network, so there is no need to have any circuit switched hardware.
VoLTE software can route calls and SMS/MMS messages through the LTE networks, and VoNR software will do the same for 5G NR.

With Thick/Full MVNOs - you get fully branded SIMs that use the MCC/MNC of their parent networks, but the MSIN is setup for the MVNO's core network.
This also means that the device should use the MVNOs brand as the network name and the MVNO gets a custom APN.

A prime example of a Thick MVNO using their own Virtual core network to route all customer traffic is actually a Subsidary of Verizon - Visible.

You won't even know it's happening because the MVNO can route their customers mid-transaction into their own core network, even if the APN on the device doesn't fully match the custom APN.  But dealys in calls coming in after someone calls you and slightly higher ping rates can indicate a customer is being re-routed to the MVNOs core network.  You can also check this by sending your self an SMS to e-mail message, Full MVNOs will not use the same SMS/e-mail gateway adress.

ATT: NUMBER@txt.att.net or NUMBER@mms.att.net
T-Mobile: NUMBER@tmomail.net
Verizon: NUMBER@vtext.com or NUMBER@vzwpix.com

MNOs tend to charge less the more an MVNO invests in its own network and the less they rely on the MNO.

This means that your network experience on any MVNO can vary greatly depending on how the MVNOs network is actually setup - and cannot be directly compared to customers directly on the same MNO.

We always encourage you to do your research before choosing a carrier, including reading their TOS and understanding as much as you can about the service.
Also, when choosing MVNOs - keep your expectations low, because they may not offer as good as a service as their respecive MNO.
The coverage will be the same, but the overall experience can be very different.
MVNO's can save you a lot of money, but you do get what you pay for.

There are other various levels, but this is the basics of how these MVNOs can be so different from one anohter, even on the same networks.
We also didn't list all the names these four levels have, or how deeply invested some MVNOs can become, so there may be variances from the information noted here.

All our research is listed here:
https://blog.3g4g.co.uk/search/label/MVNO
https://blog.mdsglobal.com/mvno#Wholesale
https://blog.mdsglobal.com/mvno#Operations
https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-different-types-of-mobile-virtual-network-operators
https://cirruscorenetworks.com/our-solutions/mvno-mvne
https://yatebts.com/solutions_and_technology/how-to-become-a-full-mvno/

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