Screw Sprint: One Month with Ting, the Wireless Carrier
I was a Sprint customer since I got my first cell phone about 11 or 12 years ago. I found the coverage to be adequate and the prices were cheaper than the two larger competitors, Verizon and AT&T. Sprint is also the only company that kept unlimited data options since the time they introduced them, which was comforting. But in the past few years I noticed Sprint was being left behind in the race for high-speed data (they were last to get LTE), left behind in the race for new devices (iPhone especially), and the prices were going up by way of additional fees, removal of perks, and straight up price increases. This all left me feeling sad. Enter Ting.
Ting is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO – some other MVNOs include Boost Mobile, Republic Wireless, StraightTalk, and AIO Wireless). It operates on the Sprint network but Ting’s customers deal directly with Ting, and pay Ting’s pricing plans. And the plans are pretty cool. Besides the fact that Ting does not have contracts, their tiered pricing “plans” means you only pay for whatever you use, month-to-month. This is best illustrated by the rates chart from their website:
In the example above, the customer used between 101 & 500 minutes, 101-1000 texts, and 101-500 MB of data. They will be charged $9, $5, and $13 for those items respectively. There is $6 fee per device which makes family plans easy to figure out. So their bill was $33 plus the few required surcharges (they were about $5 on my first bill). If they had used more minutes, say 589, they would be charged $18 for the minutes ($9 more than the medium tier), which would bring their cost to $42 plus surcharges. On Sprint, even with a $25 discount through my employer I would be paying about $130 or $140 per month for 2 lines with unlimited everything. When I calculated the bill with Ting, using my average number of minutes, texts and MBs from previous months, it came out to $82. Saving $50-$60 per month for the same service seemed like a no-brainer to me.
There are a few drawbacks to Ting (and other MVNOs). Since Ting does not put you on a contract, they do not subsidize the price of phones. So if you are buying a new phone from Ting, or otherwise getting a new compatible device, you can expect to shell out a few hundred bucks more than you are used to for getting phones when renewing a contract. Also Sprint controls when new phones are released on Ting – and they delay this release date. So customers may have to wait a few months after a phone is released on Sprint before it will be brought to Ting – although Ting seems to have been able to speed this up with recent phones. That being said, Ting does have a lot more phone choices than some other MVNOs, such as Republic Wireless which has 2 phones. Ting has 19 phones offered for sale on their website, and customers can activate many other Sprint phones, including the iPhone 4S, on their network (no 5 or 5S yet though). The Google Nexus phones are not subject to the Sprint delay, however, which is great. Another drawback to Ting is that they do not have brick and mortar storefronts. If you are used to going into a Sprint or AT&T store for assistance, or to buy an overpriced accessory, you will not be able to do that with Ting.
Knowing all of these drawbacks, it was still worth it to me to give Ting a try. In late November I ordered the new Nexus 5 from Google, and in early December I activated it on Ting. Due to a user error (the user being me), activation was not as smooth as I had hoped, but if I had done everything correctly it would have been quick and easy. I will just say to double check the numbers you are entering for your MEID and other phone information during activation. One other advantage of Ting is that you do not have to wait or go through an automated system when you call for support. Live people answer immediately, and they are very friendly. So I had my Nexus 5 up and running, and a few days later I brought over my wife’s iPhone 4S. We were both able to retain our same cell phone numbers.
My goal for my first month with Ting was to stay within my budget of $82. Ting has a great app for Android phones (no iOS app yet but the website does the same thing) that allows you to check, track, limit, and set alerts for all of your usage by device and overall. So each night I would check and see how many minutes, texts, and data we had used. The app gives you a real-time total of your charges and also estimates your monthly bill based on your usage pattern so you can see about how much you would end up paying if you keep it up. During the month I was not really worried about the minute or text usage. We had a pretty good cushion between the tier I thought we would land in and the next higher tier. Also the difference between each tier on text messages is only $3 so it’s not breaking the bank for basically unlimited usage. Data was the thing I was most worried about. A lot of popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pandora, etc. are data hogs, and data is the most expensive part of the plan.
So although I already had estimates of my usage from before, I still had to be conscious of my usage and slightly adjust my habits. Since I do not get much signal inside the office at work (this was also true when I was on Sprint officially) I did not have to worry about using much data at work during the day. When I was out I tried not to use as many data intensive apps unless necessary. And at home or at friends’ houses I was always on wifi. So keeping my data usage at a reasonable level was not hard for me. My wife is a little more freewheeling with the data usage and also uses the previously mentioned data hog apps more frequently so it was more of an adjustment for her. She eventually changed her phone settings so that cellular data usage is turned off for certain data intensive apps such as Pandora, which has helped her reduce data usage. To be honest we were both a bit OCD during the first month, and worrying too much about usage. But in the end it was worth it.
Our first bill came out to $65 + surcharges. That’s like half of what our bill would have been on Sprint. Now that we know how cheap it can be, and that the service does work, I think we will enjoy it even more in the following months. We could use a gig more than we did last month and still end up paying what I originally estimated, which was $82.
Also, although my bill was $65, the amount I paid was far less due to the many credits and specials that Ting offers. They really do take care of customers. At any time they will have multiple promotions for people who are signing up and also they do cool things like give account credit if you take someone out for coffee and tell them about Ting (that was a limited time promotion in the fall). They will pay 25% of your ETF fee if you leave your contract to join them (up to $75). If you sign up for Ting through this link you will get $25 credit towards your first bill (I will also get a credit, so it’s a win-win).
Overall, I’m very happy with Ting. I’m getting the same coverage I was getting from Sprint previously, but at a fraction of the cost. The customer service is great. The prices are great. I have the freedom to use my phone how I want and only be charged for what I’ve used. And if I ever want to leave, I can do so with no penalties.
I think Ting would save many people a bit of money compared to their current plans. It is an especially easy move for current Sprint customers. But some people should probably avoid Ting. If you need the latest phones, and want them at a cheap price (in exchange for signing a more expensive monthly contract – and paying more money in the end) then you may be better off with a standard carrier. If you need better coverage than Sprint provides, Ting will not fill your requirements. If you are a heavy data user it’s a toss-up. If you still have an unlimited data plan then see how much you use per month on average, and see how much it would cost you on Ting.
Side note: You can bring a number of Sprint devices over but I would recommend checking which specific devices can be activated on Ting, and the steps/requirements to activate those devices on Ting. Activation can be an issue for iPhones specifically because the iPhone needs to be in the Sprint system. If you have a new iPhone from Apple or Sprint that has never been activated on Sprint then you may run into some issues. We had an iPhone 4S that we were able to bring over but the phone had to be replaced through AppleCare at one point, so we had to reactive the new iPhone on Ting. Initially we were told by Ting they could not find the new iPhone in the Sprint system. We were able to solve this by doing a software restore of the old iPhone 4S onto the new fresh iPhone – this “pushed” the new iPhone’s MEID into the Sprint system even though it had never been activated on Sprint. We were then able to reactivate through Ting.
UPDATE Feb 9, 2014: Ting just changed their rates – they are now cheaper. Ting you so crazy.