The terms carrier networks and service provider networks are often used interchangeably; however, it is noteworthy to identify their differences. For example, a carrier, a telecommunications entity that delivers transport facilities between two locations, and a service provider, a services company that offers telecommunications services, have some variances in their infrastructure and business operations (Taylor and Metzler, 2008). 


A telecommunications carrier network is the collection of devices and underlying infrastructure used to transmit data from one location to another. The data transmission service is sold as a commodity, either directly to the end-user or a reseller (Wright, 2021). Various carriers own and maintain the equipment that handles transmitting data from one point to another and interconnecting different carrier networks. Also, in some cases, internet service providers (ISPs) own these carrier networks and sell services to end-users. However, the originating carrier network, an individual’s provider, may not hold the networking equipment that delivers texts or calls to their final destinations (Optimum, 2021).

Large and complex configurations of interconnected hardware make up carrier networks. This infrastructure provides communications services to people spread over large geographic areas, and it can distribute massive quantities of data over great distances. Regulatory agencies authorize telecom carriers to operate telecommunications systems and provide services (Optimum, 2021). Today, most carrier networks are optimized to convey data. In addition, specialized carriers exist for other services, such as telephony, television and specific medical or surveillance equipment (Optimum, 2021). Data carrier networks form the backbone of the internet and are responsible for transmitting vast quantities of data. Most data over the internet must traverse several carrier networks to go from origin to requester. These carrier networks may charge a fee to transmit data to other networks or have agreements to waive the price for their preferred partners (Wright, 2021).

Carrier networks are generally divided into tiers denoting how much of the internet they can reach and their Peering agreements (Wright, 2021).

  • Tier 1 networks can reach 100% of the internet with peering arrangements.
  • Tier 2 networks will have some peering arrangements and are charged for using other networks to access some areas of the internet.
  • Tier 3 networks are usually charged for access to all higher tiers, and they generally resell service to the end consumer as an ISP.


Service providers are rethinking their current business models and increasingly looking at the network infrastructure as something outside their core business. Instead, they are concentrating more on delivering enhanced services, and the infrastructure by which those services are delivered is becoming less important. In fact, in some cases, this even gives the option of including wireless infrastructure providers as a part of the service mix, augmenting traditional wireline services (Taylor and Metzler, 2008). Other types of cell service providers do not own the equipment and only resell the service of a significant provider. Because they do not own the equipment that handles data transmission, they are not considered a carrier network. Some examples of these types of providers in the United States include Boost Mobile, Mint Mobile and Tracfone. Instead, they use another company’s network as the carrier network for their service and are referred to as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) or, simply, a service provider (Wright, 2021). Mobile networks, also known as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), don’t own the spectrum or infrastructure needed to transmit. Mobile networks lease from licensed operators in the area. For example, Cricket Wireless is a regional mobile network that is leased under the larger mobile carrier AT&T. Mobile networks operate regionally or in niche segments of the population, while carriers operate nationwide.


Optimum. (2022). Mobile Carriers vs. Mobile Networks: What’s the Difference?. http://www.optimum.com/articles/mobile/guide-to-mobile-carriers-vs-networks

Taylor, S and Metzler, J. (2008). Is your service provider a carrier?. Networking. Network World. http://www.networkworld.com/article/2284476/is-your-service-provider-a-carrier-.html

Wright, G. (2021). Carrier Network. TechTarget. http://www.techtarget.com/whatis/definition/carrier-network

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