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Regulatory Treatment of Mobile VNOs

A mobile Virtual Network Operator (VNO) is an operator that offers mobile services but does not own its own radio frequency.  Usually, this operator has its own network code and in many cases issues its own SIM card. The mobile VNO can be a mobile service provider or a value-added service provider. It is to be noted that there are differing views on how to define a mobile VNO. 

Moreover, most countries have yet to adopt a formal position with respect to mobile VNOs.  Mobile operators with spectrum licences are often reluctant to share spectrum with other service providers.  Regulators are now looking at the issue of whether (and to what extent) intervention is necessary. If regulators intervene, they may have to set rates and conditions for access, while taking into account the effect on spectrum availability, licence fees and investment. 

Some analysts argue that regulation should be introduced so as to allow mobile VNOs to offer a wider choice of services and applications at a lower price to consumers, and to ensure a more efficient use of the spectrum.  Others argue that the mobile environment is sufficiently competitive and that the advent of 3G will further increase competition.  The VNO question is a fairly new one: the benefits and pitfalls of regulating these emerging players have yet to be discussed at the international level.    

Background material

Regulatory Materials: 

Communication from the European Commission, The Introduction of 3G Mobile Communications in the EU:  State of Play and the Way Forward , 20 March 2001

OFTEL (UK Regulator), OFTEL Statement on Mobile Virtual Operators, October 1999

OFTEL (UK Regulator), Mobile Virtual Network Operators: OFTEL Inquiry into what MVNOs could offer consumers, June 1999

- British Telecom, Response to OFTEL Inquiry, July 1999

- Service Provider Interest Group (SPIG), Response to OFTEL Inquiry, June 1999

ART (French Regulator), Reflections on MVNOs

Materials from the Private Sector:

Listing of Mobile Virtual Network Operators from Mobile Lifestreams

Report available from OVUM (Consultancy), Virtual Network Services: Strategies for Fixed and Mobile Operators, April 2000 

Report available from Analysys (Consultancy), 3G, MVNOs and Acquisitions: Opportunities for entering new markets, November 2000

MVNO Resources Center  from Pyramid Research

Article from Gilbert & Tobin (Barristers and Solicitors), The Emergence of the Mobile Virtual Network Operator - Virtually Here, February 2001  

Telecommunications Online (various articles)

Article from Mobile Start, Virtual Reality: from resellers to MVNOs.  Are virtual operators here to stay? February 2001

Examples of MVNOs:

Virgin Mobile (UK)

Sense Communications (Norway)

Spirit Telecom (Ireland)

Primus Telecom (Australia)



ITU Workshop on Licensing of 3G Mobile (Geneva, 19-21 September 2001)   


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Updated : 2011-04-04