Ultra Mobile MVNO focuses on international calling, promises mobile payments

T-Mobile USA MVNO Ultra Mobile launched today with a prepaid unlimited plan that includes up to 1,000 minutes of international calling. The company also said it has so far sold almost 500,000 Ultra Mobile SIM cards to independent agents and resellers, which the MVNO said will be distributed to more than 10,000 retail stores nationwide. 

Ultra Mobile--which operates on a bring-your-own-device, SIM-only model--is the latest company to join the increasingly crowded MVNO market. Other players include Ting, Jolt Mobile, FreedomPop and Solavei.

Ultra Mobile is launching with three service plans:

  • $29 per month for unlimited talk and text;
  • $39 per month for unlimited talk, text and HSPA data (throttled to 128 Kbps speeds) and a credit for around 250 minutes of international calling;
  • and $49 per month for unlimited talk, text and 1 GB of unthrottled HSPA data (throttled thereafter) and a credit for around 1,000 minutes of international calling.

Ultra Mobile is headed by David Glickman, a telecom industry veteran who previously founded Hometown Telecom, an MVNO very similar to Ultra Mobile that offers long-distance calling services to Indians living in the United States. In an interview with FierceWireless, Glickman said Ultra Mobile and its international calling component is primarily aimed at the 40 million people who live in the United States but were born elsewhere.

"There are 6 million people coming to America every year with long-term visas," he added. "We are totally geared to how they think."

He said Ultra Mobile's international calling service works across almost 200 countries worldwide.

Glickman said in the coming months Ultra Mobile will offer additional calling plans, and next year it will launch a SIM-based mobile payment service. He said the MVNO will essentially tie a user's MasterCard account to the Ultra Mobile SIM card, which could open up a variety of new payment services and functions. For example, Glickman said, Ultra Mobile users could transfer money to relatives oversees through a simple SMS message. Hometown Telecom appears to currently offer a similar service through MasterCard.

Ultra Mobile's pricing puts it in line with similar offerings from other prepaid MVNOs. For example, Solavei is another T-Mobile MVNO that is offering $49 per month for unlimited voice, text and data (Solavei's differentiator is that users can receive discounts by signing up other subscribers, but the MVNO doesn't offer international calling).

Perhaps the most well-known T-Mobile MVNO was Simple Mobile, which was acquired by América Móvil's U.S. MVNO, TracFone, in May. At the time of the acquisition, Simple Mobile counted 1 million customers. Simple Mobile also took a SIM-only approach to the market, offering inexpensive prepaid service to customers who brought their own phones to the service.

For more:
- see this release
- see this fact sheet

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Article updated Oct. 30 to correct information about Ultra Mobile's data speeds.