The evolution of MVNOs and lessons learned.

The telecommunications sector is evolving rapidly and has undergone a major transformation in recent years. In just two decades Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) have undergone great changes thanks to technological, legislative and social progress.

In an industry as dynamic as this one, 20 years is a long time. That’s why in this post we want to look back for a brief review of the history, remind ourselves of the evolution and challenges that the MVNO sector has gone through and learn lessons for the future. Will you join us?

The history and origins of MVNOs

In most European countries, telecommunications infrastructures were developed by government-controlled monopolies. This was the case until the beginning of the 1990s, when the directives that would liberalize voice telephony and the interconnection of public and private networks began to gather pace. By the end of the 1990s, most European markets had already been liberalized.

By 1998, all operators were already entitled to connect to public networks in Europe. The world’s first MVNO, Virgin Mobile UK, was launched in 1999. Thanks to a strong marketing campaign and by offering a very simple tariff, within five months it had achieved a 6% market share.

This was the starter’s pistol and was succeeded in 2000 by other MVNOs in countries such as Norway (Sense) and Denmark (Club Blah Blah, Tele2 A/S and Telmore), followed by other countries. In Spain, the first MVNO to be operational was Euskaltel at the end of 2006.

The evolution of MVNOs

The consequences of the success of the MVNO model

Many of the first MVNOs to appear achieved high market penetration, gaining very significant market shares in a short period of time. The liberalization of the sector and the emergence of new competitors led to a drop in the price per minute in mobile voice tariffs of up to 50%.

Such a strong development led the traditional operators, which provided their infrastructure, to take an interest in these MVNOs. Thus, some of them acquired part or all of several virtual mobile operators to increase their share of business. Over time, new MVNOs have appeared (some more successfully than others), and acquisition moves by the big players have become common practice.

Over time this transformed the telecommunications market worldwide. As a result, users were able to enjoy lower prices, innovation, a variety of contract options, etc.

Hundreds of MVNOs have continued to appear worldwide in recent years, with an average annual growth rate of 6%, a trend that looks set to continue over the next few years. In developed markets (North America, Europe and Australia), organic growth is slower, but the presence of MVNOs in developing countries is growing, as in the case of LATAM (Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia) and APAC (Singapore, Vietnam, China).

Challenges and opportunities for MVNOs

Although this business model has proven successful, as we saw in the previous section, MVNOs have also had to overcome significant challenges. Dealing with shrinking economic margins and complying with all the technical requirements that operators have requested to use their infrastructure have been two major challenges throughout their history.

How have MVNOs been able to stay ahead in this market? An interesting strategy has been to add value to the service provided to the user. In other words, not simply being resellers offering the service under another brand and tariff, but also offering a certain extra that the target market values and does not find in other operators.

This has been evident since the first “generations” of MVNOs. The first market-leading virtual operators were able to take advantage of the emergence of 3G in the 2000s. In later years, when the number of smartphones stopped growing as fast as it did in its boom, a new market opportunity appeared in wearables, such as the Apple Watch and similar devices that came after it.

In more recent times, the implementation of 5G brought with it the emergence of new services such as audio and video streaming, as well as the opportunity for manufacturers to renew the devices in use. As for the COVID pandemic, the explosion in teleworking has generated a new landscape related to the integration of work and home services.

New challenges have constantly arisen that have been transformed into new opportunities.

The evolution of MVNOs

The common factor for success: staying updated

Every time a new challenge has presented itself, the first companies to resolve and overcome it have come out stronger. And to overcome difficulties, it’s necessary to be at the forefront in terms of innovation, technology and service. This has been the case in the past and will continue to be the case in the future.

In the current era in which many companies are in the process of digital renewal, a new business opportunity will appear based on this innovation. Perhaps the clearest example is the development of the IoT (Internet of Things) thanks to 5G. The growth of connected devices is expected to increase almost uninterruptedly, creating a new market that did not exist before.

Another important aspect is that for a long time this sector has had a barrier to entry that prevented non-technology-based players from entering, but this barrier has now disappeared, making it all the more necessary for operators to differentiate themselves in the market.

Thanks to new levels of virtualization, cloud platforms and back-office systems, it is now possible for many companies from other fields to enter the MVNO sector to diversify their business. Instances of this have been Eroski Móvil, Bankinter, Carrefour Móvil, etc.

Specific services for MVNOs

In a sector as competitive and dynamic as the MVNO sector, it is important to stay on the crest of the innovation wave in order to find a niche in the market. There are still many challenges ahead that will require effective, flexible and cost-effective solutions. At Centum Digital we are aware of this; realising that generic Telco services are not always a solution, we offer specific services for MVNOs. If you want more information please do not hesitate to to get in touch with us.


MVNOs have very special needs. At Centum Digital we are aware of this and we know that generic services for Telco do not always apply to MVNOs.
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Artículo propiedad de CENTUM Solutions, S.L

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