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Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO): What is A MVNO & What to Know Before Signing Up for One

Circles.Life, MyRepublic and Grid Mobile are all MVNOs.

While this may seem like an unfamiliar term to you, Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) have become a part of your daily life. Circles.Life, MyRepublic and Grid Mobile are all examples of MVNOs. With the entrance of MVNOs, Singaporeans have access to a larger variety of value-for-money and flexible mobile plans.

So what does it mean to be an MVNO, and what difference does it make to your mobile plan?

What Is A Mobile Virtual Network Operator?

MVNOs are communication service providers that do not operate on their own wireless network infrastructure.  Instinctively, you may see MVNO as a competitor to the traditional Telco service provider (otherwise known as mobile network operator). Yes, in the sense that they belong to the same industry. But to a larger extent, they work on a partnership basis to complement each other’s services.

Most of the time, an MVNO will enter a mutually beneficial business agreement with a telco service provider to access network services at wholesale rates and operates other elements independently. For instance, Circles.Life (as an MVNO) relies on M1 Limited’s mobile network to deliver its own voice, messaging and data services.

How Does A MVNO Differ From The Traditional Telco Service Provider?

A telco service provider is licensed to establish its own network and provide end-to-end mobile services such as wireless, voice, data and roaming facility to subscribed users. Telco service providers have physical retail branches to manage customers. There are currently four licensed telco service providers in Singapore – SingTel, Starhub, M1 and TPG.

On the other hand, a typical MVNO does not possess a license to own an independent mobile network infrastructure. They serve like a reseller of wireless communication services.

Despite obvious differences between an MVNO and telco service provider, they are similar in terms of providing certain services and prepaid plans.

Here is a general comparison of an MVNO and a telco service provider.

Features MVNO Telco service provider
Services Voice calls, SMS, data usage, billing, customer support services Voice calls, SMS, data usage, billing, customer support services
Mobile Plans Prepaid and postpaid Prepaid and postpaid
Network Infrastructure No independent network Owns independent network
Physical Presence No Yes
Contract Terms Flexibility to tweak mobile plan month-by-month Mobile plan usually lasts for 2 years, but there are options to re-contract after 1 year or purchase 1-year contract.



Data coverage Option to purchase data-only SIM and add-ons Option to purchase data-only SIM and add-ons

While there is a clear distinction between the two, telco service providers have been adapting to customer preferences by launching flexible SIM-only plans. In the case of Singtel, it has also launched GOMO, an MVNO to attract younger customers.

How Are The MVNOs Different From Each Other?

Circles.Life – the first MVNO – took Singapore by storm in 2016 with its bold marketing campaigns and competitively priced data plans that were too good to be true. Within the span of a few years, there are now 9 MVNOs wooing digital-savvy customers aggressively with affordable data plans.

Despite promoting similar services, each MVNO deploys unique marketing strategies such as upselling data-only plans to target young heavy data users or offering flexible data-sharing plans.

With many options available in the market, it can be a headache to dig into the details. Here’s a summary table to help you compare the coverage and features between each MVNO:


*Pricing is derived from each MVNO official website, updated as of 6 May 2021.

3 Factors To Consider Before Signing Up With A MVNO

Without the need to maintain its own network infrastructure, MVNOs have the capacity to offer generous data plans with affordable price points and flexible policies. This is definitely good news for active data users.

But before you get too excited about more data coverage, consider these three factors before signing up with a MVNO:

#1 Usage Pattern:

Based on your past usage patterns, you should have a fairly good estimation of how much data, talktime and SMSes you need. Compare the plans between your existing service provider and other MVNOs to determine the most suitable option. Do also consider if you need overseas coverage or more flexibility in sharing data usage with your loved ones.

Read also: What Are The Best SIM-Only Plans In Singapore (2021 Edition)

#2 Underlying Network Provider:

Most of us today have little tolerance for poor connection and slow loading speed. It may be helpful to find out the network that the MVNO is operating on and check for reviews before signing up. The process of porting over from your existing mobile plan to the MVNO may also influence your decision-making process.

#3 Promotional Pricing:

Pay attention to the details attached to different promotional plans. While the pricing is attractive, you need to clarify on the terms and conditions such as validity period, eligibility criteria and miscellaneous fees.

Similar to how you will assess a company before investing in its stock, the same applies when it comes to choosing your mobile plan with a MVNO or telco. After all, there is no perfect plan but you can make a well-informed decision by getting the most suitable plan that serves your needs.

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