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Customer spotlight: Jonathan Pagan

Jonathan Pagan is a pretty awesome guy. When he’s not at workreddit helping others as a Physician, he’s helping them out online! Jonathan enjoys talking about personal finance and is constantly lending his expertise to the great folks over at r/Frugal.

Recently, he decided he was fed up with paying a $160 monthly phone bill and researched many MVNO’s to determine the best option for his family’s usage patterns. In a reddit thread (and subsequent follow-up post), he outlined his findings and generated a healthy discussion on the best mobile rates available to Americans.

We had a chance to chat with Jonathan about his thoughts on Ting, the current mobile industry and more!

 

Q: How did you find out about Ting?

A: Over the last few months I’ve been doing my best to shore up our family’s finances, and the important first step was setting up a detailed budget. Once I had done that, there was no avoiding the glaring $160 a month that we were spending on two iPhones. We did our best to cut where we could, but no matter what we did that $160 line on our budget for cell phones kept staring at me. After I decided I’d had enough I began my quest to find something better! Thankfully, the internet has a lot of information. I spent many, many hours searching for alternatives, and couldn’t more thankful to have stumbled on Ting on the list of MVNO’s I found on Wikipedia.

Q: What first attracted you to Ting?

A: As I worked my way through the list of MVNO’s on Wikipedia, I finally came to Ting’s website. Having looked at many of the alternatives, I knew nearly right away that Ting was different. Clearly, the lack of contracts with Ting is a big plus, but I think the most important aspect for me was the unique way of paying for service. I had no idea that there was a company that allowed me to only pay for what I used without overcharging me! For us, the flexible way of purchasing service with Ting had two big benefits: First, no matter what we’d never pay for something we weren’t using and by doing this we would reduce waste in our budget. Secondly, it provided incentives for us to use our cell phones less and spend more time interacting with our children, friends and family. These two forces combined so that we get everything we need and want from our phone plans, while improving the quality of our lives.

Ting has eliminated plans

We have made a change to Ting today that is simultaneously huge and completely insignificant.

From now on, Ting customers will no longer pick plans for voice, text and data. You will simply pay for what you ended up using. I think an example is the easiest way to explain this clearly.

Before today, you might have picked, for example, the Medium plan for everything. At the beginning of the pay period, you would pay us $9 for voice, $5 for texts and $13 for data. Then say, for example, you actually used Large for voice, Medium for text and Small for data. We would reconcile at the end of the pay period. So you would owe us $9 for voice and we would owe you $10 for data. So you would pay $27 upfront and then we would give you back $1. Then you would pay us $27 again for the next pay period.

Now, in that same example, you will pay nothing upfront and would simply pay $26 at the end of the pay period for your actual usage (L for voice, M for text and S for data).

There is no change to the $6 monthly fee per active device or any of the surcharges.

For anyone paying very close attention we have marked this monumental occasion by changing “Plans” to “Rates” in our top nav.

Why do I call this insignificant? Because in the end, there is absolutely no change to what you are paying. In fact, if you have been picking XS for all your plans, this is exactly the same. You were way ahead of us.

So why are we doing this? I can think of three good reasons:

#1

The whole “pick a plan” and “reconcile” approach was unnecessarily confusing. We found ourselves spending way too much time explaining it to people who were considering Ting and people who were looking at their bill. We spent way too much time saying things like “well, you pick a plan but it doesn’t really matter what you pick.” We thought we were rightly conforming to an industry convention (plans) and that people would find it comforting. It sounded sort of exciting when people talked about how Ting “credits you back” at the end of the month. But we realized that we could strip away a whole layer of process, for you and us, and lose nothing.

#2

It just looked and smelled too much like the sort of games the whole industry plays with rollover this and “unlimited but not really” that. In this case, again, there wasn’t anything hidden up our sleeve. The numbers ended up right where they belonged. But you have made your way to Ting through a maze of telco smoke and mirrors. We would hate for even a moment to look like we’re doing the same stuff.

#3

We were holding your money all month. Why not let you hold your money? To me, it’s just like taxes. When I get a big refund, my first thought is, “Hey, I got a big refund!.” My second thought is, “Hey, why was I overpaying taxes all year long?!” Now, to be clear, once you get going, your cashflow likely won’t be different. If you tended to exceed your chosen plan, then you owed us money at the end of the month. If you fell short of your chosen plan, we owed you money. Regardless, you’ll still be paying every month and your total over any aggregate of months will be exactly the same. But in principle, it makes so much more sense for you to keep your money and pay us when you know exactly how much you bought.

So, nothing then. Today, announcing nothing! Come and get it.

Now there is a bit of weirdness in the first month as we roll this out. Stick with me here. If you are an active Ting customer, you are in the middle of a payment period. You have already paid us for your chosen plan at the beginning of your period. So, on your next bill, we will simply reconcile with you for that period. That means you could owe us a bit or we could owe you a bit. But, as per the new system, you will not be charged for the upcoming period. Now you will wait and pay next month for what you used. So, that just means you will likely have a next bill that is somewhere between negative and small. (Remember don’t freak out and start spending money. You haven’t actually saved anything here!)

For what it’s worth, that also means we’re pushing a lot of our revenue back a month. We’ll catch up, but I still think it’s a nice indication how important this sort of thing is to us.

I hope this is all clear to people. If you have questions, please let us know. Ultimately, I hope you appreciate this change as just another effort to bring simplicity, honesty and clarity to mobile.

 

The (physical) evolution of
Ting customer service

Over the past several weeks and weekends, the customer service team’s space has been overhauled here at Ting HQ. Where previously cubicle walls and offices boxed much of the team in, the new floor plan is entirely open… with some spiffy new desks and chairs as part of the deal.

Because it was a pretty momentous change and update to the space, we ran a time-lapse camera on a laptop over the course of several weekends. If we’re being completely honest, it was a bit of a comedy of errors: First, we neglected to plug in the laptop and when the battery died, so did our recording. Then we ran out of disk space. A few other little snafus crept up. In the end, it doesn’t matter. We got some great footage (just perhaps not quite as much as we might have liked) and put this little video together.

Trevor Peck – Long Hauls and Heavy Data

We are still at that adorable stage of the business where we want to shake all our customers’ hands and thank them for stopping by. That’s basically how I ended up talking to Trevor Peck. I was looking through customer data and saw that he had been with us 11 months. He had five devices with real people names. He also used an average of about 3GBs of data a month. I’ve heard a lot of people saying that Ting does not offer savings if you use a lot of data. I figured it would be good to ask him if he’s happy with Ting and see if he’s saving money.

Trevor lives in Branch, Michigan with his wife, Lisa, and their six kids, ranging from 3 to 18 years old. Sadly or happily, depending on how much time you’ve spent with kids ranging from 3 to 18 years old, Trevor spends weeks, sometimes months at a time out on the road in his truck. (He documents a lot of his experiences here.)

He was with T-Mobile right before Ting and pretty much all of the big carriers over the last 10 years.

Trevor actually didn’t come to Ting to save money. He had two issues:

First, T-Mobile had identified him as a “data roaming problem” and was trying to put strict limits on his usage. You can’t really ask a truck driver not to roam. (I’m sure there’s a song about that.) More specifically, a truck driver tends to rely on his GPS. So he checked out Ting’s network coverage and determined that he would get more consistent coverage. He knew Ting simply did not allow data roaming off the network but kind of preferred that approach to a policy of allowing data roaming along with a bunch of throttling, threats and penalties.

Second, he just didn’t like phone companies. He didn’t trust them. When he spoke to them, they never seemed to solve his problems or help improve his situation. He told me, “When I’m on the road, this thing (his phone) is my only connection to my life and my family. I just can’t be with a company that’s messing with me.”

Trevor uses Hover, our domain registration service. He described a call he had with a Hover rep who refused to let him off the phone until he had completely solved his problem. He thought, “Wow, don’t these people get evaluated on how quickly they get rid of me?!” He told me, “I wished you guys would open a grocery store and everything else I use. I just didn’t want to deal with anyone else.”

Then we sent him an email saying we launched a mobile phone service.

So here are the numbers.

Trevor had three phones with T-Mobile. He doesn’t know just what his actual usage was but he had a plan that included 5GB a month and then bought a supplemental 5GB a month. He paid $225 a month.

He now has five smartphones with Ting – two for him (a primary and a backup), one for his wife and one for each of his teenage girls. He said with the cheap refurbs and just $6/month per device (rather than $30/month on T-Mobile), it was a lot easier to get a couple more.

Trevor uses heavy data when he is on the road. But then he uses very little when he is at home. In eleven months, the account has ranged from 800 megabytes to over 5 GBs at an average of about 3GB. The voice usage has also varied quite a bit, ranging from about 1,000 minutes to nearly 6,000.

Now that he is on Ting, Trevor says he has become much smarter about limiting his data usage. For example, he downloads all the podcasts that he listens to on the road only when he has access to Wifi.

After 11 months, Trevor’s bill has averaged $162.57. That’s before regulatory fees, which I think is the fair comparison to the $225. After regulatory fees, it’s still just $187.72.

So he spent a total of $1,134 on devices (again, two more than he had on T-Mobile) and saves $62.43 a month on service. At this rate, even with the extra users, he will save $364.34 in two years.

Plus, he loves being in control. He says that if he spends a bit more one month, it’s because he decided it was worth it to stream a video on Netflix at a rest stop or download a few more podcasts on the road. If he needs to cut back one month, he can do that too.

I’m thrilled that Ting makes sense for Trevor and his family. I really enjoyed the chat.

Thanks for your business, Trevor. Go home soon.

Five tips for taking control of your mobile data use

When you pay for what you use it pays to use less.

Ting customers already know that by taking a few simple steps to conserve, you can save big on your monthly mobile bill. I’m duty bound to point out that, even without taking these steps, Ting would save 98% of mobile users money.

Following are five easy to implement tips to save money on mobile data.

1-) Wi-Fi whenever you can

87.64%* of data use on a mobile device happens at home or in the office for 93.23%** of people. Unless you’re a real road warrior; a travelling salesperson or perhaps a cab driver, you’re likely in range of a mobile hotspot when you’re working. At home, you probably already have a Wi-Fi network set up.

Smartphones give preference to Wi-Fi when you’re in range of a known network; rather than using mobile data, your phone will automatically opt for a known Wi-Fi hotspot instead.

*I totally made that up.
**That one too.

2-) Get a data use monitor

A data monitor app on your smartphone lets you keep tabs on your data use as well as which apps are using what amount of mobile data.

Some of these apps, like our favorite Onavo Count, also let you restrict certain applications to Wi-Fi only. This is the ideal way to still have mobile access for things like email but to block apps like YouTube from chewing through mobile data.

In Onavo Count, it’s easy to see which of your apps and services use the most mobile data. You can set a data threshold for the month and be alerted on your device when you near that number. As you use your phone, the app keeps a running tally and lets you pin down usage patterns. With this data, you can adjust your mobile data use habits if need be.

3-) Do more with the data you do use

Onavo Extend sets up a virtual private network (VPN) connection which acts as a proxy for all your unencrypted data. Rather than immediately downloading to your device, sites you visit, pictures you download, videos you watch etc. are sent instead to Onavo’s servers. The data is compressed (pictures sized down, for example) and then sent to you. The result is a significant savings when you’re using mobile data.

Onavo Extend can also reserve a portion of your SD card or on-board storage for browser cache resulting in faster page loads and less mobile data use.

If you’re (understandably) concerned about privacy, that’s addressed in the Onavo Extend FAQ.

For the record, no, we don’t have an affiliate relationship with Onavo… but thinking about it now, perhaps we should!

4-) Understand mobile data and what it means

You buy data in megabytes or in gigabytes… but what do those really mean? How many web pages can you surf with a megabyte? How many emails in a gig?

Understanding what mobile data quantities actually mean in real world terms puts you in good stead to understand and control your usage. We’ve got an article here on the Ting blog that tries to break down what “megs” and “gigs” actually translate to in the real world. Give it a read!

5-) Set an alert or a hard cap in your Ting dashboard

In your Ting dashboard, you can set usage alerts or even a hard cap: When little Billy’s usage is around 200MB for the month, send yourself an alert. You can even cut data off on his phone when he reaches that threshold then reinstate it when the new billing cycle starts.

We’ve even heard of parents doling out mobile data or text messages like they’re allowance: Take out the trash and your text message cap goes up by 500. Mow the lawn and you get 100MB of mobile data for the month. Sounds a little bit like an administrative headache but it’s pretty smart!

Here’s a video from the Ting help and support site detailing how to set an alert or a hard cap:

How do you curtail mobile data use? Is one person in your family a data hog? Let us know in the comments below!

Ting Customer Q&A – Mike Slavin

Mike Slavin

Ting customer since: July 2012
Previous carrier: Verizon
Monthly savings with Ting: about $10/mo.

Where did you first hear about Ting?:

Reddit

What was it about Ting that resonated with you and made you want to switch?:

The low costs are what grabbed my attention; while it was jarring to go from subsidized phones to full-retail, it didn’t take much math to realize after only 3 billing cycles I would come out ahead. I’d still been rocking the feature phone on my parent’s cell plan after graduating from college. After moving out, starting a career, and taking on more expenses, I sought a smart phone on a carrier that was affordable, as I adapted to new expenses. The freedom of going without a contract was very appealing.

I have to admit, a big reason I moved to Ting was because how different they are. I love a good underdog, and what Ting was doing seemed admirable. If I was going to pay good money to enter the world of the smart phone, I wanted to give it the good guys.

Were you in contact with a mobile carrier before you made the move to Ting? How long was left? What did that translate to in early termination fees?:

I only had a couple months left on my contract when I found Ting so I decided to wait it out. I spent a month or so off-contract, continuing to research other options. Nothing else I found rivaled Ting.

What kind of savings are you seeing with Ting, month over month?:

If my usage stays the same, I’ll be paying about $10 less than I was on Verizon, and that was with a feature phone. The next best plan I would have moved to would have run me just shy of 2x what I’m expecting to pay with Ting, and that is taking into account a decent employer discount.

How many phones and/or data services do you have on your Ting plan?:

1

When you explain Ting to your friends, family and/or random passers by, what do you say?:

It’s how you would probably run a mobile carrier if it were up to you. Everything is fair, simple, and clear.

Are you happy you made the move to Ting? Care to elaborate?:

Very. I’m paying less and getting more, on better equipment, than I was with Verizon.