Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cell Phone Service - A Year With Ting

Getting a new cell phone for my wife reminded me that I wanted to do a a longer-term review of our new cell phone service.  Having a reader recently comment on one of those posts, along with the desire to avoid listening to the news coverage of the Florida primary this morning, has spurred me to get it done. So here goes...

About a year ago we decided to switch our cell phone service from T-Mobile to Ting. While T-Mobile had treated us fairly well (at least as far as cell phone service providers go), the lack of coverage in a few places in the Chesapeake and the hopes to reduce our monthly outlay for service had us looking at alternatives. Being cruisers, there were a few very specific goals we had for a new phone service beyond cost. Coverage and being able to use a phone in the other parts of the world were also high on the list. You can read more about our requirements and decision to try Ting in the posts here, here and here.

How has it been this past year?  Well, our change in usage habits weren't quite what we had expected, but the service has been good and the savings have been great. Even though we haven't had a chance to try using our phones in the Bahamas (although my wife's should work there) and we have been spending more time than we would like in marinas (closer to civilization), we feel pretty good about the switch.

So, how much has Ting saved us?  Well, our old T-Mobile bill was $114/month ($100 + taxes and fees). Over the past year, our Ting bill has been as low as $24.30 and as high as $31.97 with an average for the year of $27.31 including taxes and fees. Our total bill for the year was $327.67.  If we had been with T-Mobile and the rate stayed the same, the total would have been approximately $1368.00 (it is hard to be precise here since taxes and fees seem to regularly change). That is just over $1040 in savings.  Not too shabby.

Now, during my switch from the T-Mobile GSM based network to Ting's CDMA based network I had to buy a new cell phone.  Since Ting doesn't subsidize the cost of a cell phone by locking you into a contract, I had to purchase the phone outright. I can't seem to find the exact figure, but if memory serves I paid less than $140 for the phone (I think it was more like $120 and I used a $25 Ting credit link from another blog, but just to play it safe we'll call it $140). Even if you include that in the cost, we still saved $900. Given subsidies on the phones are generally worth somewhere around $100, I can easily cover the cost of a phone every few years with the savings and still have a lot left over.

These savings haven't been without the application of a little discipline in our phone usage habits, though. Specifically, we try to use WiFi whenever it is possible. I use WiFi exclusively when I do blog posts.  Most non-critical research and "surfing the web" is done on WiFi. This is not only for data, but to make phone calls as well. If we just want to call to keep in touch with family, using Google Voice or Skype with a headset on the computer or using the Google Hangouts dialer on our phones keeps hours worth of minutes off our cell phone bill. Instead of using Google Maps for navigation, having an application like Navmii, which doesn't require a constant data connection and instead stores map files directly on the phone, saves a lot of data usage. (Just make sure you download the maps and look up your destination while still connected to WiFi.) And we have started utilizing text a bit more since those tend to be inexpensive for quick messages.  We usually use less than 100 minutes, 100 texts, and 100 MB of data each month.  We will occasionally pop up into the 100-500 range in one of those categories and that is when the bill "jumps" into the $30 a month range.

With our strategy of having two phones on two different networks, coverage has been pretty good here on the U.S. east coast.  We compare signal strengths on the phones, and they generally don't seem to vary too much between the two networks.  There have been a handful of times when we have found that one had service when the other did not (usually the T-mobile phone was the one without service). Of course, that phone is the older phone (about 5.5 years old), has been well used, and I've often wondered about the strength of the radio inside it, so not sure if there is any real correlation to be had here.  In any case, there have been only a very few remote spots where we haven't had any cell service.

Ting customer service has been pretty good.  The only issues we have really had have been device-related and not service-related, so it is hard to ding them for that. My Kyocera phone had an issue with a software update that caused some Google applications to crash, and it took a while to get an update from Kyocera to resolve the issue. (I ended up beta-testing the fix for them...not sure if the update was ever released to all Hydro Vibe phones by Kyocera.)  My wife's old phone would use small amounts of data even when the data network was supposedly turned off.  My wife's new phone has some issues that seem device-related (more on this below).  The only glitch we've had with Ting was in the original port of my number over from T-mobile - it took a day longer than expected due to some hiccup with their port request system the day we tried.  Otherwise, the bills have been right where we expect them to be with no strange charges.  When contacting Ting, we've always been helped in a timely, if not immediate, fashion. Overall, we have been very happy with their service and find them to be as-good as or better than the other carriers we have used in the past (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile).

When looking at cell phone service, I think a lot of people think that a cell phone is a cell phone and it is the carrier that causes all the problems.  But having worked in the industry as well as having various devices on different networks, I do know that the device itself can play an important role in how well the overall service works.  When my wife and I both had T-Mobile devices, she would get some dropped calls in areas where my phone would work fine...despite hers supposedly being the better (or at least more expensive) device. Her new phone, which we just purchased and had high hopes for, seems to have a few issues and we are currently wondering if we should simply return the phone and try another. And with more services getting away from heavily subsidized phones, handset manufacturers are having to figure out other ways to make revenue on handsets...like preloading a bunch of software on the phone that you don't need and can't remove.  Some of this software causes more problems than you might think. My only advice here is, regardless of what provider you choose, look at the phone itself and try to find one that has good reviews and doesn't have a lot of extra software on it.  Or, if you are technically inclined, get a phone with a known means of rooting (gaining administrator access on it) so you can delete unwanted software or even install a clean version of the operating system.  Of course, most of this applies to Android based phones.

But enough about phones themselves, this is supposed to be a review of Ting.  And my experience has shown that Ting has been a good choice for us.  They provide a good level of service on multiple networks at a very attractive price point.  Paying only for what you use seems to result in decent savings for most, and can be a particularly large savings if you are willing to apply a little bit of discipline in how you use the service.

Unless something dramatically changes, I think we will be sticking with Ting for a while.

If you are interested in giving them a try,the link below should get you a $25 credit towards either a device purchased in their store or off of your first phone bill for new customers.  While this hasn't altered my opinion of their service at all, using this link does provide me with a credit too...so if you are seriously considering giving them a try, I'd appreciate your using this link to benefit both of us.

Get $25 off a Ting device or your first month's bill when you click here

Well, guess I've procrastinated enough on the engine repairs...time to go to work.

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