In 2006 the telecommunications sector in Spain was deregulated, paving the way to the advent of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). Since then, the market has remained highly dynamic, with various MVNOs entering and leaving. In this article we explain what an MVNO is and outline the main MVNOs in Spain.
What is an MVNO?
MVNOs are mobile virtual network operators which do not have their own network infrastructure, so in order to operate they need to collaborate with operators that do, otherwise known as Mobile Network Operators or MNOs.
In Spain there are four operators with their own network, namely Movistar, Orange, Vodafone and Yoigo, from which MVNOs need to rent coverage in order to offer their services.
Types of MVNO
Generally speaking, MVNOs can be defined as entities that are independent of the MNO that provides their network coverage, enabling them to set their own tariffs, although as we will see below, operators with their own network also possess their own mobile virtual network operator. In any event, the MVNO’s relationship with the company that owns the network will depend on the regulations and commercial environment in the country where it operates.
At the infrastructure level, as already mentioned, no MVNO can have radio communication elements since it lacks the authorization to do so (this is why it uses an MNO’s infrastructure), but it can have other types of infrastructure, thus giving rise to different types of MVNOs.
The most widespread type of MVNO is the service provider MVNO. In this case, the operator has no network infrastructure at all, so it only manufactures SIM cards under its own brand name and carries out all the commercial activity for the sale of its services.
By contrast, some MVNOs may have some technical infrastructure such as their own GSM location registry or mobile switching center (MSC), to name just two. This type of operator is called a full MVNO and has the advantage of being more flexible given that it can use several different networks, being able to expand or change network, something that can be viewed as a strategical asset at certain times.
Comparison of MVNOs versus traditional operators
The existence of MVNOs predominantly reflects a commercial opportunity, so the main advantage that these operators usually offer to customers is in terms of tariffs. By not investing heavily in infrastructure, they can offer lower tariffs more aligned to customers’ needs.
As for the quality of service, something that has been questioned on numerous occasions, it is the same as traditional MNOs; this is because they use the same infrastructure, so access to the network is provided without problems and would only be affected in the event of extreme saturation, which is not very common. In these cases, the main operator does have priority access to the network over users of MVNOs.
On the subject of the disadvantages of MVNOs, most of them do not have physical stores, so that sorting out any type of problem or incident must be done by telephone or online. This is not necessarily a bad thing as long as customer service responds appropriately.
MVNOs in Spain classified by their network
In Spain there are many mobile virtual network operators operating under the coverage of the four existing MNOs: Movistar, Orange, Vodafone and Yoigo. Here is a breakdown of some of the MVNOs and the coverage under which they operate:
MVNOs under Movistar coverage
Following the change in regulation and the emergence of virtual mobile network operators, Movistar has its own MVNO and offers its coverage to 10 MVNOs, included among which are:
- DIGI Mobil.
- Tuenti Móvil: Movistar’s MVNO since Telefónica bought the social network in 2013.
- O2: has been owned by Telefónica since 2018 and is therefore Movistar’s MVNO.
MVNOs under Vodafone coverage
Vodafone provides coverage to four MVNOs, making it the MNO that offers the fewest services of this type:
- Lowi: VodafoneMVNO since 2014.
- HITS Mobile: although it operates under Vodafone coverage it is actually an MVNO that has belonged to the MásMovil (Yoigo) group since 2019.
- Vodafone bit.
- Lebara: although it operates under Vodafone coverage it is an MVNO that has belonged to the MásMovil group since 2018.
MVNOs with Orange coverage
At the opposite end of the spectrum to Vodafone, Orange has allowed more than 40 MVNOsto operate under its coverage, the largest number in Spain. These are some of them:
- Simyo: Orange MVNO since its acquisition in 2012.
- Jazztel Móvil: Orange MVNO since the acquisition of Jazztel in 2016.
- Flexi Móvil.
- República Móvil: Orange MVNO since 2018.
MVNOs with Yoigo coverage
Yoigo has its own network throughout Spain, although in some areas it uses Movistar and Orange infrastructure as a secondary network. The company was acquired in 2016 by MásMovil, since when it has increased its presence in the market. The MVNOs operating under Yoigo coverage are:
- Pepephone: owned by the MásMovil group since 2016.
- MásMovil: this company acquired Yoigo in 2016 and is therefore an MVNO of the Yoigo-MásMovil group.
- LlamaYA: MVNO of the MásMovil group since 2017.
- Lycamobile: MVNO of the MásMovil group since 2020.
- Oceans: MVNO of the MásMovil group since 2020.