MVNO stands for "mobile virtual network operator.” These are cell phone carriers that don't actually own the physical communications network its customers use. Instead, MVNOs use the networks built by the biggest facilities-based service providers in the country, which include Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T.

Should you consider a cell phone plan from an MVNO? What are the benefits of buying a cell phone plan from an MVNO? Here's everything you need to know about how MVNOs can save you money, and whether you're the right customer for a mobile virtual network operator.

What are the most popular MVNOs?

Some of the nation's most popular mobile virtual network operators include Mint Mobile, Google Fi and Ting. Other well-known MVNOs include TracFone, Straight Talk Wireless and Metro. Some of these cell phone carriers are wholly independent of any major carrier, but others are operated by a major carrier such as AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon.

All of these MVNOs offer their cell phone plans for purchase online, and many of them can also be found in major retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and CVS. 

6 major benefits of an MVNO cell phone plan

  1. Coverage you need. The first notable benefit of mobile virtual network operators is that customers get the coverage you would expect from any of the major cell phone carriers — without the high costs and contract requirements. 

  2. Bring your own device. Have your own phone that you love? That’s not a problem, either. Another benefit is that MVNOs offer plans that allow you to bring your own device, including smartphones. 

  3. No credit check. A third plus is that many MVNOs offer low-cost and prepaid plans that don’t require credit checks.

  4. Features you expect. Whether it’s international calling or Wi-Fi connections and calling you want, MVNOs have you covered. On top of text, talk and data, these lower-cost carriers offer most of the features that you would expect from any of the major carriers. 

  5. Plans to meet your budget. What’s more, MVNOs offer a wide array of plans that are ideal for any budget. Whether you are streaming movies and music requiring more data or just check your email here and there, you can find a plan that fits your needs. You can find MVNO plans starting as low as 1GB up to unlimited.  

  6. Low cost. The biggest benefit to an MVNO is the relatively low cost of their plans. For instance, Tello Mobile offers a plan with unlimited text and 1GB of data for just $10 a month. What’s more, many of these carriers offer new customer rates providing even more money savings. 

MVNO plan considerations

While there are several advantages of getting a cell phone plan from an MVNO, there are two factors to consider. The first is that data speeds may slow down when the network load is high. Major carriers prioritize their customers at those times rather than customers on MVNOs that use the networks.

The second consideration is that some of the plans are ultra-basic and don't include all features like hotspot access or unlimited data. Be sure to review the plan details carefully.

Who should use MVNOs?

Retirees who don't place too many demands on their cell phones are ideal customers for MVNOs. Cash-strapped college students may also find MVNOs to be a great option. Moreover, these plans are the perfect option for anyone who usually uses their phone through a wireless connection at home, school, or work. Essentially, though, anyone who wants to lower their household bills should consider an MVNO.

Today, there is no shortage of cell phone carriers and cell phone plan options to choose from. You can find super basic plans with just a few gigs of data, or a plan that offers unlimited text, talk and data if you’re a cell phone superuser. 

Whatever type of user you are, if you're interested in saving money on your cell phone plan, your first step should be to check out plans from these national MVNOs. 

What could be better than getting to use a major carrier's network without having to pay a major price tag?