Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cell Service: My First Month With A Low Cost Carrier

In recent posts I described my goals for finding a new cell phone service and took a look at a few interesting providers.  The service provider I decided to try was Ting.  They have had some favorable reviews, the rates for our estimated usage should be under half of what we are currently paying, and supporting both CDMA and GSM networks (on separate handsets) we should theoretically have increased coverage by having a handset that works on each network.


Before the final decision, I contacted Ting once by phone and once using their online chat help system.  I wanted to see if being a discount provider meant there would be very limited support.  While they didn't quite meet their goal of "always have a real person to answer the phone and never put you on hold", their response times were no worse than I've experienced from Verizon or T-Mobile.  I guess that Sprint changed some policies regarding activation of handsets that has driven up recent support call volume (at least that is the excuse they are providing for "breaking their no hold promise"), so their response times might improve.  But they seemed good enough to give a try.

I've heard stories about varying ease or difficulty when porting over an existing cell phone number to a new service.  It is typically supposed to happen within 24 hours (longer if the phone number was a land line number).  In our case we were porting over two numbers from T-Mobile to Ting, one was being switched to a CDMA device while the other would be assigned to a new SIM card for an existing GSM device.  After the new device and SIM card arrived in the mail, we initiated the port.  Requesting the port was a pretty easy process of just filling out a form on the Ting web site.  The hardest part was that I needed to call T-Mobile to get a pin number to allow the port and, naturally, T-Mobile wanted to try to keep me as a customer (although to their credit, they didn't push nearly as hard as Dish Network did).

The port of the GSM phone number to the new SIM card went off without a hitch.  We initiated the port about 8pm one evening, and by the next morning my wife's phone was up and running with the new SIM card installed.  The port of my number from my old GSM device to the new Ting CDMA device didn't go as well.  That next morning my port was still showing as "pending" on the Ting site.  And that didn't change by the afternoon.  Finally, as we were reaching the 24 hour point, I gave Ting a call.  They informed me that there was a "glitch" in the porting system the night we submitted the requests and some of them didn't go through.  The tech support person then cancelled and re-initiated the port request.  Sometime around midnight I received the email that the port was successful.  When I tried activating my phone the following morning, it still wouldn't complete the activation.

This may have been my fault though.  You see, while I was waiting for the initial activation, I decided I would go ahead and configure the phone the way I wanted it.  I ignored the messages about the phone failing to register with the network, and connected the device to my WiFi.  I then downloaded the apps I wanted installed, changed the ring tone and wallpaper, etc.  In order to get the phone to complete the activation, I had to do a factory reset of the phone.  I lost all of the configuration that I had done, but the device completed activation just fine after that.  Unfortunately, the phone also started updating all of it's pre-installed software (the Google browser, mail, and other OS bits) before I could get it attached back to my WiFi...and ran up my data usage 14MB.  Oh well, at least it was connected.

Performance of the phones so far seems fine.  My wife's phone is the GSM phone and, since Ting's GSM service uses T-Mobile, I didn't expect there would be any change.  My wife reports that service might be just slightly improved, with her phone no longer dropping calls at one point in her commute that usually had that problem...but I'm betting it has as much to do with atmospheric conditions so I think I'll call performance "the same".  Since I was working at the house, I didn't have as much experience with the Sprint service.  The phone only reports one bar out of five in the house, but the phone still seems to be able to make and receive calls just fine.  On this trip to the east coast, I haven't found any areas where I didn't have voice coverage (I am using very little data, but LTE was there when I tried using it) although again I rarely see full bars on the signal strength meter.  Sound quality isn't the best on the new phone (it is a bit tinny sounding), but that is caused by the handset and not the service (and was one thing the reviews noted about this phone...but being water-resistant I went with it anyway).

Since we are now on a plan that charges based on usage, we've been kind of playing a game similar to when we bought the Prius.  Instead of seeing who could get the best gas mileage, it is now a game to see how low we can keep our first months bill while still using our devices.  I've found a number of tips that can cut down data usage on an Android device (shutting down or reducing update frequencies on all those programs that like to notify you of the current weather, who just posted on Facebook, etc.).  I even installed a toolbar that will let me shut down the cell data connection (LTE) so the things that can't be easily configured to stop polling the internet would be denied access when the phone is not in use. For our trip, I installed a turn by turn navigation program called Navmii that allows you to download maps and navigation data and then use those items when you are without a data connection (or in my case, download them on WiFi and then turn off the data connection so we aren't constantly pulling map data on the cell data network).

I've been watching our various usages over the course of the month.  Most everything came in at or below where we expected it would (based on previous usage).  I did note a strange billing item on my wife's phone where it was showing calls forwarded from her number to voicemail.  I called Ting to inquire, and the support person claimed that they charge for calls to voicemail.  This seemed bizarre to me, but since it was only happening on my wife's line and not on mine, I did a bit more digging.  The Ting web site says "Calls that you don't answer, including ones that go to voicemail, are not considered billable airtime".  Technically their GSM support is still in Beta, so I guess I may have found a bug...and I think this tech support guy just wanted me off the phone. When I contacted them again, they clarified with me that they don't charge for calls to voicemail and this was indeed a glitch in their system that they are working on correcting and I should see it corrected before I am billed.

At the end of the month, here is how it compared.  On T-Mobile our bill was running just over $114 per month ($100 per month plus taxes and fees).  This month with Ting, we had the two lines of service ($12) and fell into the Medium minutes bucket ($9), Small text messages bucket ($3), and Small data bucket ($3). That is only $27 for the base charge for BOTH phones this month.  Including taxes, the total came to $31.97.  So, this first month, we saved $82.03 and I'm very happy with that.

To be fair, we did try to cut our usage some.  So, if we took our usage from our last T-Mobile bill, we would have been in the Large Minutes bucket ($18), Small text message bucket ($3), and Medium data bucket ($12) and that comes to $45 per month for both phones (I'm guessing that will be around $50 after taxes).  Still less than half what we were paying.

So, looking back at my original criteria...

  • They have to be reasonably priced.  My T-Mobile bill was $114/month for two phones ($100 + taxes, fees, pain and suffering) and it had to be at or below that.
$27, or even $45 is far better than $100, so we nailed that one.
  • They have to have decent coverage in the U.S.  T-Mobile wasn't that bad, except in Deltaville, but I did want better if I could get it.
One phone is on T-Mobile's network and the other one is on Sprint with voice roaming to Verizon, so this should be better as well...but we won't know for sure until we are back in the Chesapeake.  A tentative Yes.
  • They have to support GSM phones (since CDMA is only used in the US and I think Japan and I would like the option to use any phone I buy elsewhere).
My wife's unlocked GSM phone was ported over.  That's a check.
  • They need to have the ability to suspend service without disconnecting the number for times I am out of the country and don't want to use that service.
You don't actually have to suspend anything since you are charged by the bucket.  If you use no minutes, texts, or data in a month, all you have is the base $6 line charge and people can still leave you messages.  That should work nicely as an automatic suspension when we are out of cell phone range for a while.

There have been a couple glitches, but overall I'm happy with the service.  If you want to give them a try, I can even help you out a bit.  If you use the following link, you should get a $25 credit with them as well.

$25 credit towards new Ting cell phone service

Disclaimer: The link above will not only give you the $25 credit, but it gives me a credit too.  This doesn't change my opinion of the company, but I thought you should know.


  1. Nice report. I have been looking at Ting as well.



    1. You are welcome Jesse. Ting isn't perfect...but then I've found no cell phone company that might as well save a few bucks. Will try to comment more in a few months after I have more experience with them as well.

  2. Thanks for doing all this research for us! We have 3 lines with AT&T and just made the switch to Ting using your link. Looking forward to spending less $$.

    1. Hi Lucy,
      You are welcome. Hope you find they will meet your needs. We have been happy with them so far...particularly the significantly reduced phone bills. :)