MVNO Ultra Mobile adds T-Mobile's LTE service, but scraps mobile payments plan

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) MVNO Ultra Mobile announced that it is now supporting LTE connections. The company also tweaked some of its pricing plans and expanded its international calling options.

Ultra Mobile's actions help highlight the continued white-hot competition in the MVNO market. A range of competitors including Ting, FreedomPop, Republic Wireless and others continue to offer new and noteworthy pricing options and services in an effort to separate themselves from their larger wireless network operator rivals.

For Ultra specifically, the company said that it now supports T-Mobile's LTE network. The MVNO previously only offered HSPA data speeds. Ultra also said that, through its "UltraUp" offer, subscribers who travel over their monthly high-speed data allotment can purchase an additional 1 GB of high-speed data for $10.

"We are offering LTE now because our wholesale supplier made this feature available to us," wrote Chris Furlong, executive vice president of product and marketing at Ultra, in response to FierceWireless questions on why Ultra is adding LTE to its service now. "This will be a big step up for people who want the latest and greatest in high speed data."

Ultra doesn't sell phones; instead, the company sells SIM cards to subscribers who purchase their own phone. Furlong said the company currently has no plans to begin selling its own phones. Furlong declined to say how many subscribers Ultra has, but said it's in the "hundreds of thousands."

Interestingly, Furlong said Ultra Mobile has backtracked on a plan to offer mobile payment services. In 2012, the company said it was planning a SIM-based mobile payment service to launch in 2013. The service was to tie a user's MasterCard account to the Ultra Mobile SIM card, which could open up a variety of new payment services and functions.

When asked what happened to the mobile payments service, Furlong said: "The better question is what happened to mobile payments? It never quite got there as a product. We saw some very big people from Google on down try to make mobile payments work, and the acceptance on the consumer side is not there. If it ever does take off and our subscribers are asking for it, then we'll look at mobile payments again, but it's not an active project right now."

In other Ultra announcements, the company said it has further improved its international calling service by making it free for customers on its $29, $39, and $49 plans to place unlimited calls to over 40 destinations including France, Germany, Canada, China, Mexico and elsewhere.

The company also said it added new features to its existing $29 per month plan including unlimited international calling to 40 locations, 1,000 calling minutes to an additional 45 international locations, $2.50 of credit for global international calling, and 500 MB of high-speed LTE data.

Ultra launched in 2012 with a focus on international calling. Since then the company has worked to expand its international calling options.

América Móvil's U.S. TracFone unit remains by far the nation's largest MVNO; in the first quarter the company closed on its acquisition of 1.4 million subscribers from Page Plus Cellular, a Verizon Wireless MVNO. Absent the deal, TracFone added 452,000 customers organically in the quarter--giving the company a total subscriber count of 25.51 million wireless customers.

While some MVNOs continue to make progress in the market, others are struggling. T-Mobile MVNO Solavei--which offers a "social commerce" model that rewards subscribers with a monthly commission for the new customers they sign up to the service--filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month but it still continuing operations. Solavei said it counts roughly 101,000 customers.

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