What is an MVNO and what are the different MVNOs in Australia?

MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator. MVNOs are small mobile service providers that lease space from the “Big Three” networks – Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. Since they have lower overheads, MVNOs can offer some of the cheapest mobile plans on the market.

How do MVNOs differ from the big networks?

MVNOs don’t build their own infrastructure but bulk purchase network time and services from the three big networks. This means when you sign up for a plan with an MVNO you have the backing of one of the big networks, but you are purchasing all your services and products from the smaller operator.

How do MVNOs work?

MVNOs purchase network services on a wholesale basis from the three big Telcos and then on-sell those services to customers. This includes Australia’s biggest supermarket chains.

Basically, when you sign up to a small operator you can usually get the same or even better deals, often at the same speeds, as when you deal directly with one of the big networks. The plans are often cheaper because these smaller providers don’t have their own infrastructure to pay for and maintain. This in turn means they have lower overheads and can afford to offer a wide variety of cheap mobile plans.

MVNOs also operate independently of the network behind them, which means they can set their own prices. There are loads of small operators competing for new business – which is good news for customers as it reduces prices and creates a marketplace with plenty of choice.

Some of the benefits of MVNOs:

  • Reduced costs – since you are not paying for mobile tower maintenance and other infrastructure costs. Many MVNOs don’t have shopfronts or carry mobile devices, which can also help reduce costs to customers.
  • Access to the cheapest mobile plans – such as plans on 3G networks that offer great value for money at slightly lower speeds.
  • More choice – competition amongst operators means more choice and less restrictions on plans.
  • Less exit fees – since MVNOs tend to focus more on SIM Only plans and shorter contracts, it means you’re less likely to incur exit fees when exiting or changing plans.

Generally speaking, Optus and Vodafone small network providers provide the same coverage as their respective big networks. However, Telstra operators tend to provide slightly less coverage and lower speeds than Telstra itself. This is because they only use parts of the Telstra network.

Since MVNOs tend to preference SIM Only plans that do not come with a new phone, this can limit your choice if you are searching the market for a new device included in your plan.

Some MVNOs make use of only one of the big networks while others will use more than one. Southern Phone for example uses both Optus and parts of the Telstra network. Likewise, iPrimus uses both Optus and Telstra depending on the plan and network availability.

Should you use an MVNO or go direct with a big network?

It all depends on what you want. You might for instance choose a big telco if you:

  • already have internet services with one of the Big Three and are interested in a bundled deal with them that includes a mobile plan;
  • are intending using your phone extensively while overseas;
  • are looking for big bonuses in your plan, such as Netflix data-free streaming.

On the other hand, you might choose an MVNO if you:

  • are looking for the best value deal with no lock-in contract;
  • want a basic, no-frills cheap mobile plan without the fancy extras;
  • would like more choice when searching for best value mobile plans to suit your needs;
  • don’t need a new phone but just want a fantastic deal.

You can use Econnex’s comparison engine operates to find the best mobile plans on the market from the Big Three as well as smaller MVNOs. Econnex’s comparison engine operates completely independently. which means the recommendations and deals you see are the real deal. There is no bias, and no percentages or preference. Rather, what you get is easy to follow clear comparisons of the top deals in the market – with your savings shown in real dollar amounts. Whether you’re looking at upgrading your phone and plan benefits, or just the plan itself, the option best for you is just a search away.

How to use the comparison engine

To use the engine, select ‘personal’ from the Connection Type dropdown box, and your preferences from the other two dropdowns. You can then set your preferred data and price ranges using the sliders beneath the boxes, and press ‘Start’ to see a range of suitable plans.


For Business plans and inclusions, select the Business (1-9 Connections) option from the comparison engine Connection Type dropdown. Then, select your preferences from the other two dropdown boxes and set the sliders for your preferred data and price ranges.

If it’s time to upgrade your old device, or to simply find a better deal from either a large network or one of the many MVNOs available, Econnex can help make your decision so much easier. Simply enter in your requirements and preferences into the search engine fields and see what’s in store for you.

Your Guide to Choosing the Best Phone Plan

How do I compare plans with Econnex?

I am running a business and need many mobile connections, can I get a comparison?

What is the difference between SIM and Mobile + SIM plan?

How do I know I have the best plan?

What is an MVNO?

Should I use an MVNO or a network operator?

What is the difference between post-paid and pre-paid?

What does owning a phone “outright” mean?

What are the differences between the networks?

What is a “contract” plan?

What is Android?

I already have a mobile phone and want to keep it. Can I get a new plan?

What does SIM cards do? Do I need one to get a mobile?

What is “SIM Card Unlocked” ?

What is 4G? What is 5G?

I want a post paid plan. Will the provider check my credit?

What is international roaming?