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Summary:

Ultra is turning the SIM card into an international calling card. It’s always offered cheap direct dial rates to other countries as well as free international SMS. Now it’s making calls to five countries gratis.

networking globe
photo: Thinkstock

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.

Ultra Mobile calling rates

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.

  1. I was interested in the $19 plan, but the lack of discussion and the apparent lack of even voice/sms roaming (!!!) has put me on pause. Imo, those are more important than international calling. There also appear to be issues with refilling the plan.

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Monday, August 12, 2013

      Hey Bob, That was one of my big questions for Ultra when I interviewed them a few months back. Could they become an international MVNO, kind of like what Truphone is doing? The answer was no, though. There’s a big difference between connecting a call internationally and connecting a phone to an international mobile network. While it’s possible, it’s still expensive, and Ultra said the globe trotting audience is not what it’s going after. They’re targeting the people who are living in the U.S. on budget with friends and family back in another country.

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  2. Sorry, I meant USA roaming.

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