Mobile Phone Networks: Real or Virtual

Virtual and Real Assistants; Virtual and Real Servers; everyday technology has progressed over the years and decades.

Mobile Phone Networks can be found as Real or Virtual.

In this article we explain the difference between a Real Mobile Network and a Virtual Mobile Network.

Real Mobile Phone Network

A Real Network owns, operates and maintains masts, transmitters and infrastructure to transmit calls and text messages across the air waves.

Virtual Mobile Phone Network

A Virtual Network does not own, operate or maintain masts, transmitters and infrastructure to transmit calls and text messages.

How does a mobile phone Virtual Network operate ?

A Virtual Network will rent masts, equipment, and infrastructure, or buy minutes in bulk from a Real Network.

The Virtual Network will get a good discount for buying minutes in bulk.

The Virtual Network can then add a percentage which is then charged to the end user - the caller, and the Virtual Network makes their profit by selling on the minutes.

Real and Virtual Network Examples

As an example, EE mobile is a Real Network - Asda mobile is a Virtual Network.

If you use an Asda mobile  SIM card, your calls and text messages actually go across the EE mobile network - Asda mobile uses EE mobile masts, transmitters and infrastructure.


If you experience signal issues and choose to change Network in an attempt to improve signal strength or coverage, it would be a good idea to check that you are not moving from a Real Network to a Virtual Network that uses the masts, transmitters and infrastructure of the Network that you are currently on.

For example, if you currently use EE mobile then move to Asda mobile, your signal issue will more than likely not improve because the Virtual Network of Asda mobile actually uses the same masts, transmitters and infrastructure as EE mobile.

The opposite also applies - moving from Asda mobile to EE mobile for the exact same reasons. hopes that this article has helped raise awareness of the difference between Real and Virtual Mobile Phone Networks.

A "Real Network" is often referred to as the Host network.

You might also like to read our article MVNA MVNE MVNO MNO.

Below we list a number of probably well known UK networks and their respective "Real" networks.

Virtual Network
Real (Host) Network
Asda Mobile EE
(Everything Everywhere)
BT Mobile EE
(Everything Everywhere)
GiffGaff O2
Lebara Mobile Vodafone
Lycamobile O2
Plusnet Mobile EE
(Everything Everywhere)
Sky O2
Talk Home Mobile EE
(Everything Everywhere)
TalkMobile Vodafone
TalkTalk Mobile Vodafone
Tesco Mobile O2
Vectone Mobile EE
(Everything Everywhere)
Virgin Mobile EE
(Everything Everywhere)