The emergence of niche MVNOs

Yet another MVNO surfaced today with the launch of Ultra Mobile, a virtual carrier running on T-Mobile USA’s network. Ultra offers three monthly plans starting at $29 and topping out at $49 for unlimited talk and text and 1 GB of unthrottled HSPA data.

Like a handful of other new MNVOs, Ultra Mobile operates a SIM-only model for users who activate their own devices on the network. And Ultra is targeted very specifically at the 40 million people who live in the U.S. but were born elsewhere: Its most expensive plan includes a credit for roughly 1,000 minutes of international calls. The company says its international calling works in nearly 200 countries worldwide, and Ultra is developing a system to enable users to send money to others overseas via their phones.

The first wave of U.S. MVNOs failed gloriously by trying to target huge swaths of users based on content and demographics. But many players in this latest wave have far more realistic expectations and are wisely looking to parts of the market that are currently underserved by today’s network operators. That’s why they’re far more likely to succeed than, say, Disney Mobile was.