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What is an MVNO and how can it save you money?

There are plenty of great deals to be had outside the big 3 telcos.

Updated

A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is a company that relies upon the Telstra, Vodafone or Optus networks to deliver service to its customers. Their plans usually have cheaper prices but fewer features compared to a plan from one of the big three telecommunications companies.

How do MVNOs work?

MVNOs work by leasing space from existing mobile phone networks. However, since there are only three carriers with their own networks in Australia, every MVNO operates on either the Vodafone, Optus or Telstra networks.

Essentially, MVNOs can offer you a cheaper deal on phone plans than any of the big three because they don't have to pay the costs for building and maintaining the actual mobile networks themselves and don't advertise as much. Tied to this is the fact that their plans are often prepaid or month to month and usually much more light on features or simpler than the main providers. Nevertheless, you can still find good value plans if you compare the options.

Providers using the Telstra network

MVNOs on the Telstra network mostly use their "wholesale" version, which is slightly smaller, reaching 98.8% of the Australian population, rather than having access to Telstra's full network which covers 99.5% of Australians. Here's who uses the network:

If you want more details on Telstra MVNOs in particular, check out our guide here.

Providers using the Optus network

The Optus network is the second most extensive after Telstra, getting out to around 98.5% of the Australian population. Here's a list of providers on the Optus network:

For more information on Optus' MVNOs, click here.

Providers using the Vodafone network

While the Vodafone network may be smaller than either Telstra or Optus's networks, it's by no means tiny. MVNOs with Vodafone reach about 22 million Australians across the country. They are:

Comparing plans from MVNOs

With so many MVNOs to choose from, it can be pretty hard to decide on which ones to consider. We've broken down a couple of plans with the providers that we think are best suited for these categories. Keep in mind that our "best" picks might not always be the best for you. You can head on over to our main mobile plans comparison page to compare between plans yourself.

Best MVNOs for network coverage

Both Boost Mobile and JB Hi-Fi Mobile use the full Telstra network, rather than the wholesale version. This means they get the full 99.5% of Australians coverage that Telstra offers.

Best MVNOs for international inclusions

MVNOs are pretty all over the place when it comes to international inclusions, but Lebara and Lycamobile have some of the most extensive inclusions available. They're sure to suit wherever you need to call overseas.

Best telcos supporting charities or communities

Bendigo Telco and Better Life might be quite unknown providers, but they make quite a splash in supporting social causes. Both providers give back to their local community and support businesses or people who need it. Their plans may be slightly more expensive because of this.

Best family plans

Some MVNOs like Woolworths Mobile and Yomojo encourage multiple family members to hop onto the same plan or provide family-friendly features, plans or security.

Besides offering specific family mobile plans, some telcos also have different data-sharing features available, which can be helpful if you're looking to share a big pool of data around with a couple of your family members.

Start comparing MVNO plans in the table below

If you're looking for a mobile plan on a specific mobile network, just click 'filter results' and choose which network you're after in the 'advanced' tab.

Are MVNOs a good option?

The big draw of MVNOs is undoubtedly their lower price. Keep in mind that you're not getting good value for nothing — you're trading away:

  • Network coverage. Telstra MVNOs in particular most often use the wholesale network, which doesn't reach quite as much of Australia as the full one. You may only be likely to notice the difference in some rural or regional areas.
  • Extra features. MVNOs tend to not include all the fancy extras that big names like Telstra or Optus do. While there are options for data-free streaming of music or sport here and there, you will generally get loads more features with a big three plan.
  • Phones on a plan. When it comes to getting a new handset as part of a mobile plan, most MVNOs don't offer that. However, some do and you may be able to save on your new handset this way.

If you're just after a basic SIM-only plan, choosing an MVNO is a pretty good option as they offer some of the best mobile plan deals around.


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