Mobile Networks Vs MVNOs in New Zealand: What is the Difference?

Mobile Networks Vs MVNOs in New Zealand with Mobile Compare
Tuesday, June 25, 2024

In New Zealand, we have a wide range of mobile phone plan retailers. We have a combination of mobile network providers and MVNOs, delivering wide-spread coverage to where Kiwis live and work, and allowing choice and flexibility. But what exactly is a mobile network provider compared to an MVNO? What is the difference between the two? 

Here at Mobile Compare, we are all about helping Kiwis make fully informed choices. So, let’s break down the difference between the mobile network providers and MVNOs in Aotearoa.

What is an MVNO?

The term MVNO is often thrown around in the mobile phone landscape. But what does it mean? And how does it compare to a mobile phone network? 

The phrase MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator. An MVNO is a company that provides mobile phone services such as phone plans that include calls, texts and data, without owning any of the physical infrastructure in the mobile network such as cell towers. 

MVNOs lease parts of the mobile network operators so that they can offer their services under their own brand name. MVNOs launch in New Zealand for various reasons. 

With the cost of living crisis, the demand for flexible and cost-effective mobile plans is continuing to rise. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly easier for companies to become MVNOs. With advancements in technology, the barrier to entry is decreasing, leading to new players in the market and more competition. Because of their flexibility to innovate, MVNOs can stand out by offering niche services, specialised plans, and competitive pricing, attracting a diverse customer base. MVNOs are great for offering innovation, variety, customisation, and pricing transparency, focusing on the unique needs of a wide range of Kiwis. MVNOs are great for those seeking personalised and budget-friendly services. The more competition we have in the mobile plans market, the better plans and deals will be. 

What is a Mobile Network?

Mobile networks providers are companies that own the infrastructure such as the cell towers. They also tend to be mobile phone plan retailers as well, meaning that they both own the network and sell mobile phones and plans

In Aotearoa, we have three mobile network operators that collectively provide mobile coverage to almost everywhere in the country. These three companies, Spark, One NZ, and 2degrees, deliver both 4G and 5G coverage. They will be shutting down their 3G services in 2025. 


Dating back to 1987, Spark is one of the earlier mobile network operators in New Zealand. They were previously called Telecom, and were a household name. Spark’s mobile network uses 3G, 4G, and 5G across frequency band ranges. Their nationwide 4G HD calling and data coverage reaches about 98% of the country. 

One NZ

Previously known as Vodafone, One NZ has had a longstanding history of providing great coverage to Kiwis all across the motu, reaching 99% of where Kiwis live and work. They provide 4G and 5G services in parts of the cities and towns across the country. They also provide HD+Ultra High Definition Voice Calls only on One NZ. In March 2025, they will be shutting down their 3G services. 


The newest of the mobile network operators in Aotearoa, 2degrees launched in 2009 with a mission of fighting for fairness. With 2101 cell sites in Aotearoa, their coverage extends to 98.5% of the places Kiwis live and work. 2degrees will also shut down its 3G services in late 2025, focusing on 4G and 5G services going forward. 

Who are the MVNOs in New Zealand?

In Aotearoa as of 2024, we have 9 MVNOs. 

MVNOs Using the One NZ Network

MVNOs Using the Spark Network

MVNOs Using the 2degrees Network

Comparing Mobile Phone Plans

Here at Mobile Compare, we are here to help you navigate through the slush of all the mobile phone plans on the market. With the rise of MVNOs over the last decade or so, the New Zealand mobile landscape has shifted to one that focuses on the robust array of unique needs amongst Kiwis. MVNOs foster healthy competition, drive flexibility, and empower consumers to choose services that match their unique needs. Don’t forget, there are also plenty of other mobile phone plan retailers to compare, so you can find the right plan. 

While it is wonderful that there is so much choice and many options out there, it can be easy to not know which plan is right for you. Our user-friendly comparison platform is designed to make it easy to filter out your mobile plan preferences, such as endless data and unlimited calls, so you can compare the plans that match your needs and find the best deal. 

Compare Mobile Phone Plans

Further Reading: 

A Guide to Comparing Mobile Phone Plans

The Age of 3G is Coming to an End in 2025

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