Flanker Brands in the Cellular Industry

Each of the major networks in the United States owns at least one flanker brand. In most cases, flanker brands cater to budget-sensitive consumers by offering subscribers low-cost, prepaid service. While flanker brands operate over major networks, the services they offer will not necessarily be the exact same as services network operators offer to their direct subscribers. For example, it’s common for flanker brands’ subscribers to have limited roaming options or low priority during network congestion.

Flanker brands vs. MVNOs

Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) pay wholesale rates to network operators and resell service to consumers. While MVNOs and flanker brands often have similar business models and cater to similar customers, only flanker brands are owned by network operators.

In practice, people regularly categorize flanker brands as MVNOs. Occasionally, I run into debates about whether this kind of categorization is accurate. I’m content not taking a firm position. Not every category has well-defined boundaries.

Flanker brands by network

AT&T

  • Cricket Wireless

T-Mobile:

  • Metro

Verizon:

  • Visible
  • Yahoo Mobile

Past & future of flanker brands

Sprint used to operate Virgin Mobile USA and Boost Mobile as its flanker brands. Virgin Mobile shut down in early 2020.1 Boost Mobile was sold to DISH to help facilitate a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint.

Verizon is planning to acquire TracFone and its family of MVNO brands. Assuming the acquisition goes through, the brands owned by TracFone may end up looking less like conventional MVNOs and a more like flanker brands.

Footnotes

  1. As a part of the shut down process, Virgin Mobile USA’s subscribers were transferred to Boost.