When I profiled Ultra Mobile, a virtual operator serving foreign nationals living in the U.S., in June I was most impressed with how they treated SMS. Instead of offering buckets of international SMS for set prices or singling out specific countries, Ultra Mobile just makes texting anywhere in the world free.
Now Ultra is doing the same thing with voice, though the scope isn’t quite so big. Any customer subscribing to one of its plans – including its baseline $19-a-month tier – will get 1000 minutes to call Canada, China, Mexico, Singapore and the U.K. at no additional charge. (With the exception of Mexico and the U.K., that includes both landline and mobile numbers, which often are subject to different connection rates outside of the U.S.) Ultra will still charge you extra to dial out to other places, but its rates are cheap, as low as 1 cent per minute to many countries.
Many mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) targeting the immigrant and expatriate communities bundle up cheap or free minutes and SMS for international destinations, but they’re often directed at specific countries or regions. What’s interesting about Ultra is that it’s trying to capture the entire globe under a single plan.
T-Mobile’s GSM and HSPA+ networks provide connectivity within the U.S., but to reach overseas it taps into the global calling card long distance network built by Hometown, which is run by the same people who founded Ultra. Ultra can thus offer what are essentially calling card rates, without requiring its customers to dial in special codes or use a specialty VoIP app. They just direct dial international numbers.