Ting, Dinged.

Lindy and I were customers of discount mobile carrier Ting for two months. We’ve switched back to T-Mobile.

I so wanted to like Ting. The concept was right up my alley: a frugal way to do cell phone service. To me, frugality means not paying for things you don’t need and not paying too much for the things you do. That’s exactly how Ting markets itself.
We’ve been cell phone customers without a contract for years. But we started with contracts when contracts were all you could get. When we first moved to DC in 2000, we were Sprint customers. Then Credo, for its social-service mission. There were a few years with Voicestream, which later became T-Mobile. Then we switched to Virgin Mobile, our first foray into non-contract, resold airtime service. (Virgin Mobile sells airtime on the Sprint network, and is actually owned by Sprint.)

When T-Mobile got into the no-contract space, we jumped at the chance to have better service for less money. Happily we stayed for a couple of years, Lindy with her iPhone 5S and me with my Android-based Samsung Galaxy S5, both bought used on eBay for a big savings. Then we discovered Ting, through recommendations of a couple of friends and family members.

Ting resells airtime on both the Sprint and T-Mobile networks. The pitch is simple. Pay only for what you use. If you only send a few messages, make a few phone calls or use a few megabytes of data, your bill could be much, much lower than the flat-rate plans from the major carriers. I plugged our last few months of usage into the online calculator and learned I could save hundreds of dollars over a couple of years by switching. The best part seemed to be that we’d have the same service as before, on the same phones as before, since it would be on the T-Mobile network. All we needed to do was swap SIM cards. Easy, right?

Well, not so much. There were some hiccups in the setup process that I was able to iron out by Googling and calling Ting’s amazingly helpful customer service several times. (In fact, the customer service people have been the best part of this entire unfortunate encounter.) Text messages and picture messages weren’t always going out or coming in. We drove through a data hole on the way to Colorado during our spring break RV trip that managed to keep us in voice and SMS range, but was unsettling.

Then the first bill came. As it turned out, because we were traveling, we used our phones more than was typical. So the first bill was $97 before taxes, compared to our prior $80 with T-Mobile. Then I received a final bill from T-Mobile for $90, which was a charge for a hotspot extender the company sent me, but that I gave to Goodwill because I wasn’t using it anymore. The charge apparently only applies to former customers. So far, the money-saving switch to Ting had cost us a lot more, not to mention the value of our time spent troubleshooting and on the phone. Our second bill would also turn out to be higher than T-Mobile.

The higher bills and Lindy’s frustration with gaps in service sent me straight back from whence I came, to T-Mobile. The company has a new family plan with unlimited talk and text, with up to 6 GB of high-speed data per line, for $80 a month. It’s three times as much data as we had when we were customers two months ago.

I’m absolutely certain that those who recommended Ting to us are having a good experience. It might be worthwhile for you if you don’t care about having the latest phone, don’t need your phone purchase subsidized over the course of a 2-year contract and don’t use a lot of minutes, texts or data. I probably should have done some more research before accepting the website calculator’s wisdom about our future bills. Here’s what else I wish I’d known before we switched.

1. Wi-Fi calling is disabled on iPhones.

One thing we loved about T-Mobile was the ability to make calls over Wi-Fi instead of a cell signal. In our house, we’ve got an excellent Wi-Fi setup, but few bars of cell service. When we started using Wi-Fi calling, call quality improved dramatically on both of our phones. This technology is disabled on iPhones on Ting, due to some sort of disagreement among Ting, T-Mobile and Apple. So Lindy was occasionally forced to use my phone in the house because hers was dropping calls.

 

2. Wi-Fi calling works on Android, but counts against your minutes.

On Ting, you pay for all the minutes you use. Fewer minutes means a lower bill. I don’t make a lot of calls over cellular networks, because I’m usually conWi-Fi at home or at work. But for reasons I still fail to understand, a Wi-Fi call counts as voice minutes used when connected to Ting. If the traffic isn’t moving over the cellular network, it doesn’t cost the carrier money. Why does it cost the customer? Ting actually goes so far as to recommend the use of the Google Hangouts dialer over Wi-Fi to avoid being charged for minutes. I’ve done this, especially for conference calls when I’m working from home. But it’s an insane policy. It also led to my underestimating our future Ting bills, because I wasn’t counting all the Wi-Fi calls when I put our usage into the online calculator.

3. There’s no data roaming.

T-Mobile’s data coverage map is pink across almost the entire United States. I naively assumed we would have the same coverage when we switched to Ting, which uses the T-Mobile network. This is true for voice and text, but turns out not to be true for data. So, when we were driving across Nebraska in March, T-Mobile would have allowed us to data roam on Verizon’s network and still have coverage. Ting doesn’t do this, claiming the costs would be too high. Our little family of three travels a fair amount, so this is a significant concern.

4. Text and picture messages went missing.

During our Ting time, Lindy and I missed messages from each other and from outside the family. In one notable instance, a friend had messaged me a picture of his wife’s ultrasound — a major announcement, in other words — and I never received it. I called Ting and the very helpful representative reset something on his end before asking me to restart my phone. I don’t know if this has resolved the problem, as there’s no real way to tell whether I’m missing more messages. But it never happened when we were with T-Mobile.

5.Data charges add up very, very quickly.

We ended up paying more for data than any other part of the Ting bill. It’s $29 for 2 gigabytes and 1.5 cents a megabyte after that. So two lines with 2 gigabytes of usage each would be $59 a month just for data. T-Mobile gave us unlimited data but throttled the speed after 2 gigabytes on each line under our old plan, and we’ll have 6 gigabytes of high-speed on our new one. Also, using Amazon Prime Music doesn’t count against your data plan on T-Mobile. Streaming music in the car eats up a lot of our data.

Bottom line? We’re perfectly happy not paying a bill for a land line or for cable, and we use fans and LED lights to keep our utility bills down. But this frugality thing doesn’t always work. And that’s how we ended up spending $120 extra after we planned to save money on our cell phone bills. It’s good to know when you’ve been beat.

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4 Comments

  1. Check into Google’s project Fi:
    https://fi.google.com

    Unlimited talk text, and low per GB data rates. Coverage is provided by sprint and T-Mobile, and the software figure out which network is better and automatically shifts to it.

    Only snag is that this magic only works with their nexus 5x & 6p phones, but they are offered at a discount now.

    1. Good thought, Craig. I looked seriously at Fi, but the Sprint/T-Mobile combination (as opposed to being able to data roam on Verizon if needed) was a minus. Also the number of devices offered. I do think it’s going to be an amazing service in a couple of years though.

  2. I actually had never heard of this service before until now! I doubt it would fit my lifestyle, however, since I’m now being pushed to get off of my parents’ plan (finally), I’m going to check out T-Mobile. Verizon is just waayyyy too expensive on all fronts.

  3. Great information to know. Cell coverage in Maine is still SLOWLY catching up with the rest of the country, but something to know for when T-Mobile extends to more of the state than just the Interstate! 🙂

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