The role of mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) is becoming more prominent with the ongoing 5G explosion, IoT boom and e-SIM adoption
The growth across the mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) industry is accelerating with the advancing technology around 5G and IoT. Current trends represent a need for demand flexibility and a wider range of services for businesses and mobile end users. MVNOs are leveraging the power of 5G and IoT — two of the most disruptive technologies in the modern era — to bring new services.
In recent years, mobile virtual network operators have fueled the market competition with the introduction of innovative services and tariffs to attract niche consumer segments at a lower cost than mobile network operators (MNOs). To stay ahead of the competition, operators are continuously looking to expand their offerings or adopt other growth strategies. American carrier Dish Wireless, for instance, announced in September that its Boost Mobile unit plans to take over Gen Mobile, a prepaid wireless provider. An MVNO, Gen Mobile uses the network of T-Mobile.
Besides Dish, Asahi Net, BT Mobile, Asda Mobile, Best Cellular, Freenet AG, Consumer Cellular, Tracfone Wireless, Tesco Mobile, KDDI Corporation and Virgin Media Business are some of the well-known mobile virtual network operators across the globe.
Global MVNO market size is set to garner more than US$125 billion in value by 2027, powered by increasing smartphone penetration, rise in enterprise subscribers and adoption of 5G and IoT.
How will 5G, IoT, and e-SIM transform MVNO market landscape?
Fast-growing 5G adoption in North America
North America has observed a monumental rise in 5G deployment. By the end of 2025, the number of 5G connections in the region is projected to surpass 451 million, according to 5G Americas. This rapid adoption is driving continued investments in network-ready services from MVNOs. Operators are constantly on the lookout for the best deal that allows them to offer advanced 5G-based services at the lowest of prices.
Recently in July, Dish signed a US$5 billion contract to make AT&T the primary service provider for its MVNO. The network services agreement (NSA) between the two companies will provide Dish’s wireless subscribers access to AT&T’s 4G and 5G services.
Although most MVNOs do not offer support for e-sim technology, the companies are gradually accepting the trends. Providers in North America are now offering e-SIM support to deliver new wireless services to subscribers. Citing a recent instance, Canada’s first full MVNO Data on Tap Inc. announced in March that it will now offer free e-SIM pre-orders for a new wireless service it plans to launch later this year.
North America MVNO market will benefit from the ongoing developments in IoT and connected device technologies. A recent survey by Avast and the Stanford University found that more than 66% of North America homes have multiple IoT devices, which can be anything from smart TVs and printers to gaming consoles and surveillance equipment. Besides home IoT devices, growth in the number of enterprise IoT connections will open up promising opportunities for MVNOs in the region.
Rapid MVNO subscriber surge in Asia Pacific
The MVNO industry in Asia Pacific is flourishing, with the regulatory environment in most APAC countries becoming more supportive of the market. This has led to an accelerated MVNO subscriber surge in the region. 5G deployment efforts and widespread e-SIM adoption also act as key growth drivers for the industry.
Over the past several years, APAC-based mobile virtual network operators have established strong positions in the domestic market, delivering unique and cost-friendly services to their customers. Operators continue to expand the range of wireless offerings to meet the growing consumer demand in this digital era.
Last year in October, for example, mobile carrier KDDI Corporation had introduced KDDI Digital Life, a new low-cost subsidiary specializing in wireless services. KDDI Digital Life, according to the company, will be a mobile virtual network operator. Users will be able to sign up for these services with the help of a new e-SIM.
KDDI had partnered with Singapore-based MVNO Circles Asia in January to launch new online-only services. As per the deal, KDDI will offer 20 GB of data per month for US$23.84 for LTE services, with a new 5G-based option to be added by mid-2021. The move comes as a response to pressure from the Japanese Government for more flexible and affordable tariffs.
The adoption of 5G services in Asia Pacific is fast gaining momentum. Data analytics firm GlobalData estimates that the number of 5G subscribers in APAC could exceed 1.14 billion by 2024, accounting for over 65% of the global subscriptions.
With rapid 5G deployment, growing penetration of smartphones, and the need for seamless connectivity, Asia Pacific MVNO market will see considerable developments over the next few years.
The expanding use of next-gen networks and IoT devices is allowing mobile virtual network operators to improve their services portfolio by tapping into new use-cases and unlocking new business models. The revolutionary 5G technology, with its ultrahigh speed, super low latency, and reliability, enables operators to offer different levels of experience to consumers and enterprises.
e-SIM technology continues to be a game changer for the MVNO industry. Worldwide, MVNOs are embracing digital channels to engage with end-users and offer IoT solutions to businesses by harnessing e-SIM technology. e-SIM adoption is increasing as it allows end-users to purchase connectivity from any operator from anywhere and at any time merely with a few clicks. For MVNOs, this is the key to new possibilities as they focus on bringing dynamic, innovative, and user-centric solutions to the market.