IoT Glossary

MNOs (Mobile Network Operators)

Discover more about MNOs, the services they offer, how they differ from Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), and how these various services can support your IoT and M2M strategies.

MNOs (Mobile Network Operators)

By way of background, each country has its own communications regulator (e.g. Ofcom in the UK and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US). Part of the regulator’s role is to control the use of radio frequencies within its jurisdiction.

Mobile communications work on radio frequencies. So the regulators grant licences to a handful of large operators to either purchase or lease a range of frequencies within the radio spectrum on which to run their mobile communications networks. These companies are known as Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).

In short; MNOs sit at the top of the pyramid of mobile service providers. They rent ‘radio space’ directly from the government. Each MNO builds and is responsible for its own infrastructure (e.g. masts, transmitters, and control stations) to run its networks.

What services do MNOs provide?

The core services offered by MNOs are wireless voice, text, and internet data communications for subscribers. MNOs enter into arrangements with handset providers to offer contract subscription plans. Each MNO generally offers a wide range of subscription options based on the data needs of users: typically annual or multi-year contracts, pay-as-you-go, and SIM-only deals.

Most MNOs also offer a range of services designed for businesses.

Examples include:

  • Corporate business plans, where organisations pay for a shared pot of data for all employees.
  • Managed security services.
  • Remote device management services for scattered employees.
  • Ready-made IoT solutions including asset tracking and monitoring.
  • Business communication services: e.g. bundled voice, video conferencing, and instant messaging.
  • Cellular WAN (Wide Area Network) services – e.g. for providing connectivity for temporary site offices.

Examples of MNOs

The MNOs in the UK are often referred to as the ‘big four’:


Part of the BT Group, the EE network also now comprises the old providers, T-Mobile and Orange.


Near-universal 4G coverage. Vodafone has 5G in 100 UK locations and 200 more in Ireland, Spain, Germany, and Italy.


This MNO’s 4G coverage spans almost 99% of the UK and is building up its 5G coverage.


Another operator with near-universal 4G coverage that is also investing in new 5G infrastructure.

MNOs and MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators)

An MVNO acts as a kind of subcontractor within the mobile communications industry. Instead of owning their own networks, MVNOs essentially rent space from one of the big four MNOs to offer their own services to customers.

In the consumer space, MVNOs tend to specialise in offering additional ‘perks’ to appeal to specific customer groups (e.g. low international call rates from Lebara or extra Clubcard points from Tesco).

For businesses, MVNOs can offer expert management services for IoT and M2M projects, backed up by data coverage from one of the big four providers. Wireless Logic is a prime example of this approach. You get precisely the tailored support you need for successful project implementation, coupled with secure, reliable, and future-proof connectivity.

Discover more

For further information on all aspects of network infrastructure and device management, explore our resources hub.

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