A mobile network operator (MNO), also known as mobile phone operator (or simply mobile operator or mobo ), carrier service provider (CSP), wireless service provider,wireless carrier, or cellular company, is a telephone company that provides services for mobile phone subscribers.
The essential characteristic that defines a mobile network operator is that they must have acquired a radio spectrum license from the government before they can offer mobile phone service within a country. The precise spectrum obtained does depend on the type of mobile phone technology the operator intends to deploy. For example, a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network operator will require a GSM frequency range. The government allocates spectrum using whichever method it chooses, although the most common method is an auction. Recent allocation of 3G and WiMax licenses in Europe and India (only 3G in India) have been auctioned.
However the operator must also deploy essential equipment in order to offer the services, most notably the radio transmitter network and the core network. In addition, other service platforms such as voicemail and SMS centre will be deployed as well as billing and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.
Another category of mobile network operator is emerging in some markets called the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). As far as the subscriber is concerned, they seem identical to regular mobile network operators. The critical difference is that they do not own the underlying network of base stations, but lease it instead from another incumbent operator in that country.
A mobile operator may also act as an MVNO, for example if they do not have coverage in a particular geographical region. This is also called National Roaming. The operator may actually own a license to operate but they have chosen not to deploy assets there (for example Meteor uses the Vodafone network in the west of Ireland). Alternatively the operator may not own a particular frequency (for example 3 uses the Orange network for 2G services in the UK).