Sprint MVNO TextNow to launch international calling, will give credits for watching ads and taking offers

Sprint (NYSE:S) MVNO TextNow launched international calling options to more than 150 countries around the world and also unveiled a program to let customers earn bill credits by watching video advertisements or choosing special offers from advertisers and marketing partners -- all from the company's app.

TextNow will give customers bill credits for taking part in offers.

The international calling option includes popular calling destinations such as Canada, China, India, Mexico and the UK at rates similar to VoIP providers. Users can also earn credits to make free international calls and can use their TextNow number to make the calls. Additionally, customers can check rates for international calls by entering the number into their phone's dialer and the app shows users exactly how much each call will cost before they make the call.

Calls to Canada are free, calls to Mexico are 0.4 cents per minute, calls to the UK start at 0.9 cents per minute and calls to India are 1.8 cents per minute.

In an interview with FierceWireless, TextNow CEO Derek Ting said that international calling had been requested by many of the company's users and will start with a beta trial so that the company can iron out all of the bugs. "We hope there won't be too many bugs," he said, declining to say how long the beta might last, and "we'll fix them as quickly as possible."

"It's a very important feature for a lot of people," Ting said. "Not having this definitely limits us in some markets from the consumer side. Lots of people who have ties overseas need the functionality to call."

Some international calling plans have lots of fine print on rates, Ting said, and some services like Skype don't let users use a real phone number. TextNow wanted to avoid those issues.

In terms of the credits, customers can get them by watching video ads or completing offers within the TextNow app. Ting said TextNow decided to expand the idea of credits for domestic airtime to international calling, and then to general wireless service itself. TextNow, which operates a Wi-Fi-first service, has plans that start at $19 per month with 500 MB of data and range up to $60 per month for 4 GB of data.

Ting said TextNow has "tons of partners and advertisers" in the program, and "what advertisers pay us we directly pass through to the customer." Sample adverting offers on TextNow, which are all dynamic, include actions like earning 10 cents for installing the Walmart app or $1.50 for starting a free trial with Hulu. Customers can also get one or two cent credits for watching video ads and earn dollars for downloading a game, completing a level in a game or signing up for a free trial of Netflix.

"We have a hybrid model," Ting said. "We have our own direct ad sales team and we work with partners who are aggregators of advertisers."

The service is somewhat similar to one AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) launched last month in partnership with data monetization firm Aquto that offers customers the ability to get free mobile data if they look at advertising and surveys from marketers and in some cases, by buying products.

Ahead of the back-to-school shopping season, TextNow unveiled the partnership with Fry's, which brought its service and phones into 34 locations across the country. Ting said that partnership is going well and the company offers a "grab and go" product with the first-generation Motorola Mobility Moto G smartphone that lets customers buy the phone with Ting's service loaded onto it at Fry's and activate service from the phone itself without any assistance from a sales representative.

"The product has been selling through, they have been reordering," Ting said, adding that TextNow might expand distribution to other big box stores.

TextNow also moved to make it easier for credit-challenged customers to pay their monthly bills by accepting cash payments at over 10,000 locations nationwide. The company wanted to give customers the choice to pay and top up their accounts at a wide range of locations including Gates Petroleum, Sunoco, NMart and Circle K stores, among others. However, those plans have hit a snag.

Ting said that the company recently partnered with another payments processor to widen its footprint. The company is still in the process of curating the list of locations where customers can pay with cash since some of the locations were not selling the product or taking payments. The company plans to launch an updated store list online so customers can check ahead of time to find out where they can purchase and pay for the service. However, Ting said there are currently thousands of locations nationwide that take cash payments for TextNow.

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