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October 15, 2015updated 06 Dec 2016 10:23am

5 major MVNO partnerships in the UK

List: Although Sainsbury's is getting out of the game, there are many big players still standing.

By Alexander Sword

Sainsbury‘s this week announced that it was pulling out of the MVNO game, with customers set to lose their service in mid-January 2016.

As questions are raised about the future of the overall MVNO game, CBR rounds up some of the most important MVNO deals currently available.


1. Tesco Mobile (Tesco-O2)

Unlike Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s MVNO has been a roaring success and is now the UK’s largest, with over 3.5 million customers. Established in 2003, the virtual network runs on O2 infrastructure so is fairly pervasive in the UK.

The SIM-only deal offers a maximum of 8 GB of data for £25 per month, with 5000 minutes and 5000 texts. The mobile service forms part of a portfolio of other services offered by the retailer including banking and broadband.

Significance: The UK’s largest MVNO.


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2. BT Mobile (BT-EE)

BT is one of the few operators in the UK capable of offering a ‘quad-play’ deal, meaning that customers can buy pay-TV, landline, broadband and mobile from the same provider. Until early 2014, BT used Vodafone as provider for mobile services but switched to EE in March.

In March 2015, the telecoms company launched BT Mobile, an MVNO running on EE’s network, weeks after announcing it had tendered a £12.5 billion bid to buy EE. This offered 4G connectivity as part of the package for the low price of £5.

Significance: Marked the UK’s oldest telco’s re-entry into the mobile market after spinning off BT Cellnet (now O2) in 2002.


3. Sky Mobile (Sky-O2)

Sky’s mobile offering was announced as a defensive move against BT, amidst the news about BT’s acquisition of EE. Piggybacking off O2’s network, the offering is set to launch in 2016 and will allow Sky to offer a quad-play deal.

Sky’s leading edge in the bundle will be pay-TV, an area which BT admits it is not as strong in. However, with BT winning the rights to an increasing number of sporting tournaments and events, Sky couldn’t allow itself to be only the pay-TV leader.

Significance: Sky’s launch of an MVNO will narrow the ground between it and BT, meaning that the battle over Pay-TV content becomes more intense than ever.


4. Virgin Mobile (Virgin Media-EE)

The UK’s second largest MVNO, behind Tesco, offer monthly plans and as a pay as you go service. Virgin Mobile is only able to offer 3G services, with plans including a phone starting from around £10 a month. Virgin Mobile’s network partner is EE.

Virgin Mobile offers low roaming prices to customers travelling abroad. It is able to do this because it is owned by Liberty Global, allowing it to access the Belgacom International network and Telenor.

Significance: Continental ties mean it could be well placed to capitalise on growth in roaming.


5. iD (Carphone Warehouse-Three)

Carphone Warehouse’s MVNO aims to be the most convenient for customers. Offered in partnership with Three, the focus is on providing as broad a range of plans as possible that are tailored to each individual.

You can get 1GB of 4G data for £7.50 a month on a rolling 1-month plan including a basic 4G phone. The cheapest SIM-only deal rivals BT at £5 a month. The last entry on our list was launched in May 2015.

Significance: In a packed market, this MVNO aims to make customer convenience its main USP rather than content.


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