Mozo guides

What are MVNOs? (Mostly cheaper mobile phone plans!)

Collage, two hands hold out smartphones with speech bubbles. Purple background.

Turns out there’s a way you could enjoy big mobile network coverage without paying big network prices. The secret code? MVNOs.

Okay but really: what is an MVNO?

Collage, a woman strolls through a city on her phone with her dog.

Short for ‘mobile virtual network operator’, an MVNO is a mobile provider who operates on a cellular network they don’t own. 

In Australia, there are only three actual infrastructure grids providing mobile phone services, and each is owned by either Telstra, Optus , and Vodafone. But any cursory glance of our mobile plan comparison hub will show you far more providers than just those Big Three. 

The explanation? All the other carriers are MVNOs.

These smaller carriers make money by selling for retail price what the big networks sell wholesale. This means MVNOs can often be a cheaper alternative (depending on the plan) than the big networks. Intrigued? Take the red pill and read on.

Sounds great! Should I just go with an MVNO instead of a major provider, then?

Collage of people on their smartphones.

Hold on – discounts aren’t the only thing to consider here! When making the right call on which mobile plan could best suit your needs, it’s important to weigh up the features available, not just the price.

Because MVNOs usually have lower overhead costs, smaller marketing budgets, and SIM-only deals, they can afford to offer big brand service at lower rates. There aren’t a lot of catches in terms of Australian coverage, either, so dollar-for-dollar, they tend to be cheaper.

However, if you’re searching for a mobile plan with a handset included, data-free streaming, or other bonuses, you’ll more often find them with the big three. Frequent travellers will also be far better served with a big telco, as international data roaming with MVNOs either gets blocked or charged at exorbitant rates.

Therefore, when comparing mobile phone plans with MVNOs, look at which features they offer, which network they use, and how this would serve your usage needs.

Which MVNOs use which Australian mobile networks?

Curious about which providers and plans use which network? Cast your eyes over some WhistleOut offers below.

Telstra MVNOs

Optus MVNOs

Vodafone MVNOs

Got more questions about mobile? Head over to our mobile guides hub.

Evlin DuBose
Evlin DuBose
Senior Money Writer

Evlin, RG146 Generic Knowledge certified and a UTS Communications graduate, is a leading voice in finance news. As Mozo's go-to writer for RBA and interest rates, her work regularly features in Google's Top Stories and major publications like