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Updated: New T-Mobile MVNO Ultra Mobile is a Good Deal for International Callers and Pay As You Go Data Fans

Ultra Mobile is another of several new prepaid mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) launching this fall. MVNOs resell one of the big four operator's services, often with lower prices than the parent operator. Ultra will be offering service on the T-Mobile network. They were supposed to launch today, but are based in hurricane ravaged New York City.  The launch has been delayed a bit because of widespread power outages and flooding in the Big Apple. It might still happen today though, Ultra Mobile posted the following on their Facebook Page a few hours ago;

"Our head of technology is walking 3 miles through Lower Manhattan to a colo right now so we can launch. He has no internet or power and we need to get him online for launch. The hurricane has pushed us back, but we will be up this afternoon. Hang tight Ultras."

Update: Ultra Mobile is now live. The ultra.me web site has been updated, there's now a dealer locator and contact information and it's possible to order SIMs and activate monthly plans.  I was also able to call Ultra Mobile's  customer support number today. The support line answered immediately and the rep was able to answer most of my questions. I've made updates throughout the post based on my conversation with support and the updated site.

Ultra's website lists four plans:

Ultra Mobile Plans
Plan Price per Month Voice Text (domestic & international) MMS Data International Call Credit
Ultra PAYGO $8.33 and up1 4.9¢/minute 4.9¢/each ? 4.9¢/MB No extra charge calling to 70 countries
Talk & Text $29 Unlimited Unlimited not available not available None2
Talk &Text, Unlimited Data $39 Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited at 128 Kbps $52
Talk & Text
Unlimited Data
1GB at 4G Speeds
$49 Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited (1 GB at 4G speeds)$202
1 Top up amounts and validity: $10-$24 30 days, $25-$49 90 days, $50-$99 180 days, $100 365 days.
2 Additional international call credit is available for $10 and up. Included international credit expires at the end of each billing cycle and is replenished with a fresh $5 or $20 balance. Purchased international credit does not expire.
All plans include Caller ID, Free 411, Voicemail, and 3 Way Calling. There are no additional taxes or fees on any of the Ultra Mobile plans.

Ultra Mobile SIMs are "free" but there's a $9.95 shipping and handling fee. SIMs are also available from at least one Ebay seller for 99¢ with free shipping.

The pay as you go plan is definitely the most interesting. It's listed on the Ultra site as "coming soon". According to the Ultra rep I spoke to PAYGO should be available sometime next week. Update, Ultra has posted on their Facebook page that PAYGO would be available later this month (Nov., 2012).

PAYGO refills are available starting at $10 which is good for 30 days. Topping up with $25 is a better deal as it lasts for 90 days, making the minimum monthly cost $8.33.  There is rollover if you top up before your balance expires. Data is purchased in advance in 50 MB blocks which cost $2.45 each. It looks like data is drawn from the block in 1 KB increments with a minimum charge of 1 KB per session. The PAYGO plan will also include no extra cost international calling to 70 countries.

Ultra Mobile is competing most directly with Tracfone's Simple Mobile brand. Both are SIM-only MVNOs that use the T-Mobile native network with no roaming available.

Simple doesn't have pay as you go so there's no contest there.  Ultra's PAYGO plan looks like a winner. The data pricing is the best I've seen from any operator and is the first reasonably priced pay as you go data from a GSM operator.

On the monthly side, Simple and Ultra are more alike than different. Both include unlimited international text messaging at no extra cost and have similarly low international voice rates. Here's a comparison of Simple and Ultra's rates for calls to land lines in five countries:

Ultra: Canada 2¢, Mexico 2¢, China 2¢, UK 2¢ Philippines 12¢ - Total 20¢
Simple: Canada .83¢, Mexico 1.33¢, China 2¢, UK 1.22¢ Philippines 15.5¢ - Total 20.88¢

Ultra includes $5 or $20 per month of international calls with their $39 and $49 plans, respectively. Simple requires you do buy a $10 International PIN to be able call internationally. Ultra has international direct dialing while Simple makes you dial a nine digit access number before making an international call.  I'd say that if you make international calls, Ultra is both more convenient and the better deal.

Another good deal is Ultra's $29 Unlimited Talk & Text Plan, which is lowest I've seen for unlimited with a US GSM carrier. The only cheaper unlimited plans are MetroPCS' $25/month promotional plan and Sprint MVNO Liberty Wireless' $20 plan. However both of those are  restricted to basic feature phones, with Ultra you can use any compatible GSM phone.

On the other hand, if you use data and don't call internationally, Simple has one advantage over Ultra. Simple's $50 plan includes 2 GB of data before throttling, Ultra's only includes 1 GB at full 4G speeds.

Ultra Mobile is running a contest and the prize is a new Samsung Galaxy S III and a free months service on the $49 plan. You can enter on the Ultra Website or on Ultra Mobile's Facebook page.


45 comments:

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  1. Will be interesting to hear about more details, such as the ones you mentioned, plus, do they allow hotspot / tethering?

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    1. Now that their terms are online, looks like tethering is not allowed. One thing they did get right: you can add 500MB of 4G to the $29 plan for an extra $10 after the fact-- which sounds like it would work on an as-needed basis. If they allowed using those 500MB for tethering I would have to consider switching.

      They are careful to say everywhere that you have to have an unlocked phone. From what I have heard about other MVNOs it would seem that it should work with phones locked to T-Mobile. Any thoughts?

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    2. I suspect a T-Mobile locked p[hone would work but we won't know for sure until someone tries it.

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    3. Yeswap -- this is an old thread, but I wanted to chime in that Ultra.me does indeed work on my locked T-mobile Galaxy S3. Bought the S3 off of Craigslist last year, then put in a T-mobile prepaid sim, and got an Ultra.me microsim off of ebay. Porting occurred within 30 minutes.

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    4. I expected it would. Thanks for confirming.

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  2. Wrong info. SIMPLE Mobile’s $25 plan gets you unlimited talk and text for 15 days ONLY. $29 Ultra plan is for 30 days.

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    1. You are right, the Simple $25 plan is only 15 days with no data, I thought it was 30 days. I've corrected the post.

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  3. I have used Simple's plans to reach my family in Mexico, but it's such a hassle to dial the codes before every call. I use data frequently and think 1 GB at 4 G is plenty. I read a statistic that about 95% of all mobile phone users use way less data than this. I certainly do. Thanks for letting me know about Ultra Mobile - I'm switching.

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    1. All you have to do is put the codes on your speed dial and it takes less than 1 second. Not sure what your dissatifaction is or wether your pushing this new, and untested mvno.

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  4. Bravo to Ultra on launching today despite the serious adversity presented by mother nature! Although it’s not exactly surprising given the credible and experienced players from across the industry that they have on their team. While some 'new' MVNOs to the marketplace may be considered untested at launch, Ultra has a team that is uniquely qualified to deliver the unparalleled combination of economic value, convenience and support they commit to. Both to the consumer and to the retailers that are empowered and incentivized to ensure a superior experience to every Ultra subscriber they work with.

    On another note – a clarification, this article makes multiple references to the similarities between Ultra and Simple’s monthly plans where International Dialing is not involved, to avoid confusion I think it is important to point out that Simple does not offer a monthly talk and text plan that is directly competitive with Ultra’s $29 Monthly Unlimited Talk and Global Text. Simple’s $25 offering for talk and text is for 15 days of service.

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    1. So it sounds like you work for Ultra, or are you just handling their press relations?

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    2. Neither. Just a genuine fan of the Ultra Mobile team and the Ultra Mobile offering, so much so we elected to nationally distribute their SIMs. There's a web link on my profile, no secrets here, Puzzler.:)

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  5. Votel Wireless is yet another new MVNO within an MVNO (Platinum Mobile) joining the freshly minted MVNO's. Votel, if I am not mistaken, has the cheapest unlimited talk/text/web, at $33.33 a month. It makes me wonder how many of the freshly minted MVNO's will survive past December 2013.

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  6. I think this joint is owned by a used car dealer....check this wording on their website:
    SIM is "free" with plan purchase,but you still need to pay $9.95 "shipping and handling".....say what??? last I checked first class postage is only 44 cents!!

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    1. I agree the free SIM with $9.95 shipping is tacky but you can find Ultra SIMs on Ebay for 99¢ with free shipping.

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  7. T-Mobile's own Monthly 4G service is better, both plans and coverage wise. So why choose this new MVNO Ultra Mobile? Straight Talk's BYOD GSM service is also better. I see no reason in my opinion to choose Ultra Mobile over T-Mobile Monthly 4G or Straight Talk's BYOD GSM service. Just my opinion though

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    1. I disagree with Sean's views. I am in the market for prepaid wireless that emphasizes data like Virgin's Beyond Talk plans with 2.5 GB of 3G data (I currently have a Moto Triumph on a $25 monthly play). I am looking at T-Mobile's plans with Walmart and it comes in two main flavors: (a) $30 a month for 100 minutes and 5 GB of 4G data or (b) $50 a month for unlimit talk and text but 100 MB of 4G data. The $49 plan with Ultra Mobile is a good balance between the two and is a much better deal than Verizon's $80 plan, respectively.

      Lastly, Straight Talk has too many restrictions and their definition of "web surfing" in the contract is not congruent with most people's definition of web surfing -- most people would consider watching videos as part of web surfing.

      Cheers

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    2. I too think Virgin Mobile's $35 ($25 if Grandfathered) is pretty good, But Virgin/Boost Mobile's coverage is the WORST out of any MVNO's. Why? Because they run on Sprint's Native ONLY network with NO Roaming available. Not even for Voice. Which is a big factor and selling point for me. Also you forgot to mention the 2 other T-Mobile Monthly 4G plans. The $60 and $70 ones. The $60 plan gives you Unlimited Talk, Text and 2GB of Data. The $70 plan gives you Unlimited Talk, Text 5GB of Data. Another great thing with T-Mobile Monthly 4G is that you have the ability to Roam onto AT&T's network when outside of T-Mobile's Native network (Voice ONLY). Plus you have T-Mobile's Wifi calling feature with just about all T-Mobile Smart Phones. So an added bonus. And since T-Mobile is an GSM network, you can use ANY T-Mobile branded Smart Phone (Android, iPhone, WP7 and Symbian) of your choice, or any unlocked GSM phone. So FAR more and better phone selection with T-Mobile Monthly 4G too over Virgin/Boost Mobile.

      As for what you say about Straight Talk's $45 Unlimited Talk, Text and Data service, I don't know what Straight Talk you are referring to, but the $45 a month plan is "Unlimited". Now just like Virgin Mobile and all other MVNO's that state they over "Unlimited" data, well we all know they are full of shit. But I do know for a fact that Straight Talk gives you atleast 2-3 GB data each month with the $45 plan. Which is in line with pretty much all other MVNO unlimited service. And like T-Mobile Monthly 4G, you have the ability to BYOD AT&T or T-Mobile smartphone to use. Even the iPhones. Also, Sprint's 3G service SUCKS, LOL.

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    3. Virgin and Boost are not MVNO's they are prepaid divisions of Sprint, just like T-MO 4g monthly and AT&T GO plans are not MVNO's. Sprint has the least cell towers and coverage of all national networks, so Liberty's $20 a month unlimited talk/text is all Sprint's service worth, I wouldn't get any data plan with them, until SoftBank takes them over, and hopefully adds a few thousands cell sites to their network.

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  8. I say watch, wait and see. Get a new number and test but don't port unless you have a google voice number to protect yourself. The only new indie mvno that's stuck around in the last three years is Simple Mobile. All the rest of them fade away only to be replaced by a new crop of mvnos. I trust Red Pocket, h20, Air Voice, Telrite, Page Plus, Tracfone/America Movil, Sprint Prepaid, Gophone , Tmobile Monthly 4g and Verizon prepaid but all these faceless new mvnos popping up left and right, keep an eye on them. Oh yeah, Spot Mobile is also one to watch. Other then Simple and Spot none of the newbies have really proven themselves much.

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  9. Simple is now part of Tracfone, and I think they will faze the Simple brand out gradually, there is no point competing against their own Net10 brand that is more expensive and hence more profitable.

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    1. Not necessarily. I don't think they have a problem with their own brands competing against each other. They are continually starting or acquiring new brands. They are already operating as TracFone, NET10, Straight Talk, SafeLink Wireless, and SIMPLE Mobile. Once Telcel America is up and running, they will have six brands.

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  10. Yeswap, would you recommend Ultra Mobile as a pay as go plan? It's plans seem pretty attractive. I used about 300 minutes/texts combined each month. About 250 texts and 50 voice. Is this a better deal than Platinumtel, H2O, Gophone, airvoice?


    THanks.

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    1. The most important thing in choosing a mobile operator is coverage.
      Platinumtel, Airvoice and Ultra are all good choices provided their underlying carrier (PlatinumTel = Sprint, Airvoice = AT&T, Ultra = Sprint) works where you need to use the phone. For your usage they would all cost about the same per month: PlatinumTel: $8; Ultra: $8.33; Airvoice: $10.

      GoPhone would run about $25/month for the same AT&T coverage as Airvoice. H2O seems to get a lot of complaints about poor customer service, I don't see any reason to choose them over Airvoice as the cost and coverage is the same for both.

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  11. Isn't Ultra's underlying carrier T-mobile?

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    1. Yes it is. I don't know why I typed Sprint in the reply above, it should say Ultra = T-Mobile.

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  12. Yeswap, are the prices shown above in the grid plus fees or are fees included?

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    1. According to Ultra, there are no additional taxes or fees on any of the Ultra Mobile plans. Ultra is based in New York so NY residents probably have to pay state sales tax.

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    2. I went through their checkout wizard and although I didn't complete the order, I wasn't charged sales tax for anything.

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  13. I'm not sure how at the time of writing you reached their customer service: up until I notified them of the error Thursday night, they had the wrong phone number listed on their website. Also, the CSR I spoke to didn't have any idea what I was talking about when I asked about the PAYGO plan and just read me a "sorry, we don't have any information about that" script. Here's the review of their customer service I posted on their Facebook page:

    Quick review of the customer service: I know that the service is super cheap, but the customer service leaves a little to be desired. The CSR I spoke to when I called to test Ultra's customer service had a thick accent and was obviously reading from a script (although that's typically what you get these days) and it seemed like she was rushing through the call. She also had absolutely no idea what I was talking about when I asked about the PAYGO plans, and proceeded to speed-read a "we don't have any information about that" script. However, to Ultra's credit, an incorrect number for customer service was posted on the website until Thursday evening, so it was probably one of the first calls that the call center received regarding Ultra Mobile. As a result, being a little rusty on the details of the service is to be expected, and I'm sure that some of that will be ironed out as the CSRs become more accustomed to the calls and as they get more comprehensive information to use during the calls from Ultra.

    Thanks for pointing out that you can get the SIM cards on eBay - I just ordered one and saved myself $9!

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  14. Since they show a Taj Mahal silhouette on their web site, it looks like they might be targeting immigrants from India as well as Indians temporarily in the U.S.

    Ultra: India, 2¢
    Simple: India, 2.04¢-2.28¢

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  15. Quite Correct. I get the proverbial Sanjay Patel for a CSR answering the phone every time I call customer service.

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  16. I think I'll give them a shot once they launch the PAYGO option. Thanks for pointing that out.

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  17. Ultra SIM works in my locked Tmob phone.

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    1. I suspected it would, thanks for the confirmation.

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  18. Okay, what I want to know... Is when is the PAYGO plan going to be available?

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    1. Did you ask Ultra CS? They will tell you.

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    2. Asked Ultra Customer Service Today (1/9/2013). They are not giving out any release date for the PAYGo Plan.

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  19. I have been using them for 30 days on my old lg g2x tmobile phone. voice / and data have been good. but international has been 50/50 on quality whats the point in calling if you cant understand the other person. And 95% of the time no mater what time or day i try I get im sorry all lines are busy
    please try again later, whats the point of have free international if you cant use it.

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  20. Took me 3 CSRs to finally get an "informed" reply on why i wasn't getting service in the heart of Atlanta's business district - Perimeter...Got a convoluted reply that Ultra DOES NOT run on all T-mobile bands (whatever that means) i verified by putting in my T-mobile SIM and getting 30% signal where Ultra is getting "NO Service". Besides that one spot in my office building (where i spend my office days), ultra is consistently the same/better than ATT all over town in atlanta. Sometimes get LTE, mostly HSPA+ otherwise 3G. International calling is a hit or miss - but $20 of free calling is better than having to buy callings cards and what not. Unlimited international texting works flawless. Customer support like most MVNOs are sparse and unhelpful - but you get what you pay for. So far, no super complaints.

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    1. No one else has reported getting LTE on Ultra or any other T-Mobile MVNO. Are you sure it was LTE and not just HSPA+ 4G? What phone are you using?

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  21. question, if I have a t-mobile prepaid phone, will it work with ultra-me by changing the SIM card? or do I have to go out and purchase an unlocked phone? any help is greatly appreciated.

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    1. Yes, locked T-Mobile phones can be used on Ultra Mobile and other T-Mobile MVNOs except Lycamobile.

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  22. My bad...no lte on ultra..only 4g

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