While most wireless carriers take every opportunity to overcharge their customers, Ting wants to be different.
The carrier, which according to CNet will launch in mid-2012, automatically sorts users into appropriate price tiers for wireless voice, data and text. So if you don’t use your phone a lot in a given month, you land in lower tiers and don’t get charged as much. In months of heavy use, Ting bumps you up to higher tiers instead of charging inflated overage fees.
Of course, there are catches: Ting subscribers must buy their own phones at full price, off-contract. While that means customers are free to leave Ting at any time, the up-front cost is more expensive. But because Ting’s service plans are generally cheaper than those of major wireless carriers, and because subscribers pay less for light use, the savings can add up in the long run. Also, Ting customers must activate their own phones, which can be a complicated process, especially when porting a number from another carrier.
The other downside to Ting’s service is that if you only exceed your usage limit by a tiny amount, you pay for a higher tier instead of a small overage fee. For this reason, the wireless industry has tried to argue that overage fees are great for consumers, but the savings you’d reap from falling into a cheaper tier for lower usage negates that argument.
As for service, Ting will run on Sprint’s network. It’s not clear whether Ting will offer 4G service at launch.
Ting is one of several carriers that are trying to undercut major wireless providers on the cost of smartphone service. Others include Republic Wireless, which costs $19 per month and relies on Wi-Fi to drive network usage down, and Sprint’s own Virgin Mobile brand, whose plans start at $35 per month. T-Mobile has also jumped in with $30 per month prepaid service in partnership with Walmart.
The problem with all of these services is that their best phones are inferior to the top shelf offerings from AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. (CNet’s Rafe Needeleman said he doesn’t like Ting’s selection, and hopes it gets better before the service launches.) But even low-end smartphones are improving, so these cheap carriers are becoming viable alternatives.