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Wholesale wireless would be a positive step for Canada

The Canadian government should mandate a wholesale regime as a first step to addressing the fact that Canadians pay the most expensive mobile phone rates in the world.

I spoke about this at length in a recent interview with Jesse Brown but a post last week by Peter Nowak entitled “Wholesale wireless not the answer for Canada” has spurred me to respond to a couple specific points.

Peter primarily lays out three reasons why “…the Canadian government shouldn’t be – and probably isn’t – thinking of wholesale service as a solution to what ails the country’s wireless market”. They are that MVNOs have “only” achieved 10% of the market in the US, that MVNOs “that do offer data are operating on carriers’ older, slower and even near-obsolete networks” and that mandated wholesale has failed in the fixed Internet access market in Canada with the implication clearly being why try it again.

He also specifically offers these arguments in response to Open Media (and so many more on Twitter) calling for us to be allowed access in order to bring Ting to Canada.

First, “only” 10%. The share of MVNOs actually continues to grow from there, as all the articles about the MVNO renaissance in the US detail. More importantly, while the postpaid market in the US is flat, the prepaid market is showing significant growth (and most MVNOs, Ting included, are considered prepaid even though it really means “no phone subsidy”).

Also, the benefits that MVNOs bring to consumers go way beyond the market share those MVNOs manage to capture themselves. It is important to look at the changes the incumbents are forced to make in response to those MVNOs (and 10% is plenty to force change). In the US, MVNOs like Ting started challenging conventions like subsidized devices and contracts, overpriced unlimited and plans that dictate fixed levels of voice, data and text. T-Mobile took those messages and added several million in advertising spend. Now, Verizon and AT&T (60% of the market) are scrambling to respond with new plans and the average cellphone bill is undoubtedly coming down.

Of course slower networks and worse phone selection makes for lower market share. Except, Ting, and most of the newer MVNOs talked about in the MVNO renaissance, offer the most modern data networks and a great selection of high-end smartphones. LTE? Check. Galaxy S4? Check. Note 3? Check. Nexus 5? Check. iPhone? Only the 4 and 4S (you got us there Peter). In fact there is no doubt that our percentage of smartphone users far exceeds any of the big three in Canada (of course this is because we are newer). The whole argument about networks and smartphones seems like a straw man he builds up to be torn down. It is both factually incorrect and not relevant when talking about either Ting or Open Media’s asks.

Finally, perhaps the most bothersome argument, that mandated wholesale has failed in the fixed access market in Canada. The fact is that what has happened in fixed access is that the government has failed to enforce mandated third party access and that the incumbents have done everything in their power to thwart it. Third-party access to the cable plant was mandated by the CRTC in 1996. The cablecos were able to deny that access until 2012. Sixteen years!

If Peter’s point is that we should not bother with mandated wholesale access because the government will never be able to enforce it and/or the incumbents will always be able to avoid enforcement then I may have to sadly agree. But if Peter’s argument is that it hasn’t worked because it is the wrong strategy then he is simply wrong on the facts. We have seen a terrible failure in execution of an absolutely appropriate strategy (and here my heart goes out to Teksavvy and all the others who have fought and are fighting this good fight).

If the government took the resources they are spending on television ads telling us about how they want fairness in the mobile phone market and spent it on effectively executing a mandated wholesale regime, then Canadians would have real change. In places where this has been executed well, like the UK or Israel, users have immediately enjoyed lower prices and higher levels of service. Then perhaps in a short time “only” 3 million (or 10% of) Canadians would be enjoying the savings and actually dealing with a phone company that cares about them. And shortly thereafter 5 million. And…..

FOOTNOTE: There is one other note. In no way do I allege bias (truly I don’t), but the lack of disclosure of conflict bothers me. From Peter’s bio:

“In November 2010, Peter embarked on a freelance career and to work on his next book. He is a syndicated blogger for Macleans magazine, Canada’s news weekly, and Canadian Business magazine, as well as a regular contributor to The Globe and Mail and the Huffington Post. He also contributes to MSN, CBC and New Scientist magazine.”

Macleans and Canadian Business are owned by Rogers and the Globe and Mail is owned by Bell. There, fixed.

Frequently asked questions about Ting and the government shutdown

As we all start to digest the possible near and long term effects of the government shutdown, a lot of people are understandably asking, “How does all this affect my Ting service?!” In an effort to avoid widespread panic, we thought it might be a good idea to address a few of the likeliest questions.

Where is Ting located? The Grand Canyon? Statue of Liberty?

No. In fact, over the past twelve hours, we have moved our entire operation to Toronto, Canada to avoid any impact at all on our employees and customers. The people here are very nice and real estate is relatively…wait, I’m being told now that we’ve always been in Toronto, Canada. Boom! We were way out ahead on that one.

Is Ting reconsidering its promise to “make sense” now that the whole concept of making sense has been rejected at such high levels of the federal government?

We have indeed done a lot of soul searching and a lot of brainstorming. There was some momentum late last night behind “Mobile that holds its constituents hostage unless it gets exactly what it wants.” A small faction here favored “Mobile that earns your trust to do an important job and then simply doesn’t do it.” For now, we are going to stick with “Mobile that makes sense” mostly because it fits so cleanly into our top nav.

Does the shutdown mean that all currently held contracts with other carriers are now null and void?!

Settle down, people. This is a brief display of political gamesmanship, not a biblical event. If you want to get out of your contract, you will likely need to pay an early termination fee (ETF). However, we can help by reimbursing you 25% of your ETF up to $75 per device in the form of a Ting service credit. (See what I did there?)

Will Ting service still be available to military personnel, postal workers and the elderly?

Absolutely. We love all those guys. And just this week, we have also extended service to forest rangers, jugglers and comic book villains, making us the only truly universal affordable mobile phone service.

Can Ting do anything to help with the rising cost of healthcare?

I’ll tell you what. Call us at 1 855 TING FTW and cough into the phone. We’ll do our best to diagnose you for free.

Tucows CEO lobbies for
free wireless Internet in Africa

I am sharing this here for two reasons.

First, we care about it. We believe the Internet is the greatest agent for positive change the world has ever seen. It is the core value that drives just about everything we do. So, we are telling anyone who will listen.

Second, we figure you (being empowered consumer types) probably like a bit of visibility onto what our company cares about and does beyond offering you reasonable pricing for your little texting habit.

Some quick background. We (Tucows) are one of the largest domain name registrars in the world. For that reason, we are an active participant in a governing body called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that sets policies for domain names around the world. ICANN has recently been accepting applications from organizations that want to launch new Top Level Domains (TLDs), tons of new alternatives to .com, .net and all the other .whatevers out there.

In the process, ICANN, a non-profit organization, has raised a ton of cash.

Elliot Noss, our CEO, and Sascha Meinrath, our friend and a great champion of the Open Internet, published an article in Slate today suggesting that ICANN should and can use $100MM of the funds they have raised to build and maintain free wireless Internet infrastructure for a large portion of Africa.

Please give it a read.

Ting Included in GigaOM’s Mobile 15

This is profoundly reaffirming for us.

GigaOM has included Ting (among heroes like Apple, Samsung and Foursquare) in The Mobile 15 as one of 15 companies “…that are changing or could potentially change the mobile landscape in the most profound ways.”

When we were building Ting, we absolutely believed we were innovating, despite the fact that we were not developing a network, devices or even mobile apps. We believed we were innovating despite the fact the our innovations (e.g. eliminating contracts, charging based on usage, separating voice, data and text, allowing unlimited devices to pool usage, picking up the telephone when customers call) seemed more obvious than earth shattering. We were simply stripping away all the contrived, complicated, unfriendly stuff in the industry that didn’t actually make sense. We were rocking it old school, except, for some reason, the industry never even rocked it this way in the beginning.

But when we launched and started talking to reporters and going to the sexy tech shows, we were feeling a bit out-whizzed and out-banged. (“So, you’re just offering access to an existing network?” “So, basically, you’re just cheaper?” “How much venture capital have you raised?!” “Your CEO is how old?!”)

It was our early customers that first really got it. They saw how much opportunity there was to offer greater value and greater service within the existing universe of networks and devices. They saw how our example was actually inspiring and pressuring larger providers to start changing their ways (e.g. announcing shared data plans, experimenting with BYOD). They started to tell their friends, who started to tell their friends.

So it is fitting and gratifying that GigaOM, a publication we admire for celebrating applied innovation (innovation that people actually use and appreciate) has recognized us as an example of just that. We would like to thank our customers for their collaboration and support and GigaOM for keeping an ear on what customers think.

To be clear, we are not seeking patents on fair pricing or great service. Just remember we did them first!


A Ting Device Update

As promised from some threads in our customer forums, here is an update on the device landscape. Up to now, we have not shared a lot of information about our device roadmap, which upon reflection seemed very “un-Ting-like”. We want to change that going forward.

We have learned a lot about the device supply chain and marketplace since launching Ting six months ago. There are lots of moving pieces and factors to keep track of, and we have made some good progress in refining our approach and learning from our experiences. We have intentionally not said a lot about future devices as we want to be sure what we tell you is reliable (we hate vapor-ware), and we have been figuring out the challenges relating to managing a lot of physical inventory and an ever changing device landscape.

One of the big factors stressing the supply chain currently is the launch of LTE services and devices. In fact, this quarter is probably one of the more stressful periods in terms of device information / availability. Since LTE is a new protocol, there are lots of additional steps that are required in order to launch and deploy it. As a result of this overhead, the entire device ecosystem has been under extra pressure. The good news is that this will not happen again soon, and it looks like the majority of the work has been done, so we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Ting wireless network services are provided on the Nationwide Sprint Network* and we have some restrictions on which devices we can make available to our customers as they must be approved for use on that network. There can be small delays for new devices becoming available to us as a result of either inventory constraints, or MVNO specific testing that must be completed.

We want to bring you the best devices as soon as possible, and we are working closely with our partners to continually improve our ability to do so. We are pretty happy with what we have been able to offer to date, and are quite optimistic things are only going to get better.

Some of the devices we expect to be able to offer to Ting subscribers sooner than later include the LG Viper 4G /LTE, the LG Optimus Elite, and HTC EVO 4G LTE. I can not say when we will get any of these devices as there are some elements that are still outside our control, but we will take pre-orders for these devices when we have more certainty around delivery dates.

If we look a bit further out, I expect to be able to offer the Samsung Galaxy S3 as well.

We have had some demand for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and we are working on it. If we can resolve the logistical issues in the near term, we will be glad to offer you this device.

In the feature phone segment, there have been some significant supply issues outside our control that have delayed our launch of the Samsung M370. We still expect to offer this device, but it could be 8-10 weeks before we can do so. We recently added the Kyocera Brio (after getting lots of requests from customers) which has been selling quite well and getting excellent reviews.

We have no plan to offer RIM devices at this time. We are open to the Windows Phone, but do not have anything firm to tell you at the moment.

That is what I can share with you today.

There are a couple of initiatives we are working on that I can not talk about at the moment, and to be honest they could take a very long time to bear fruit (cough), but rest assured that we are working very hard on a couple of exciting things.

Please feel free to join the conversations in our forums and ask specific questions there. There are some interesting threads on devices. If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you will be notified about new devices as we make them available.

* Although Sprint provides Ting subscribers access to
its wireless network and to its wireless services, Ting is responsible to the Ting subscribers for the service. Please call Ting with any questions or comments about services.
* Sprint is a trademark of Sprint Nextel.

Ting To Launch Shared Data Plan Four Months Ago

Tucows Inc. (NYSE AMEX:TCX, TSX:TC), a global provider of domain names and other Internet services, today announced that its mobile phone service Ting would unveil a shared data plan on February 2, 2012, four months prior to this announcement.

“Putting multiple devices on one plan was pretty straightforward,” explained Ken Schafer, EVP Products, “the main challenge was figuring out the time travel part.”

Schafer elaborated…

Elliot pulled a bunch of us into the board room. He had that look on his face. ‘”McAdam and Stephenson are running around hinting at shared data plans. What the hell do I have to talk about?! Cute little line drawings?.” He glared at Michael Goldstein, VP Marketing. Goldstein didn’t say anything. But he was wearing one of those skinny new shirts that his sister got him for his birthday. He looked great.”

“How long would it take us to launch a shared data plan?,” Elliot bellowed.

“Maybe three sprints,” suggested Scott Allan, Director Ting, barely above a whiny little whisper.

“If we abandon Ben Lucier’s stupid ‘hug every customer’ initiative, we could probably get it done in one,” sneered Evgueni Pirogov, Director, Mobile Engineering.

“A full sprint?! Two weeks?! Ross and I once launched a domain name registry in two weeks!”

“.moo. Lots of fun. I was sitting over there at the time,” added Ross Rader, VP Retail/Customer Experience.

A quiet voice came from the far side of the room. “How about four months ago?”

Everybody looked over at Paul Tichonczuk, Senior Web Application Developer. He was scribbling something on a napkin and wearing a large hat he had fashioned out of aluminum foil.

Lillian Angel, Software Developer, leaned over his shoulder to get a better look while chewing noisily on a granny smith apple.

He handed me the napkin.

“It could work.” I said. “Somebody run to the dollar store and get us more aluminum foil!”

Starting February 2, 2012, Ting customers will be able to share data, as well as voice and texts, across unlimited devices on one account. Each active device will cost just $6 a month. The value gets better as the total usage increases, amounting to huge potential savings for businesses and families. There are never any overage penalties or premiums and there are no limits or fees on features like tethering.

“Again, we think this just makes sense for mobile phone users,” explained Tucows CEO Elliot Noss. “People are wasting a ton of time and money on multiple accounts.”

“I think we showed tremendous initiative and hustle by launching this in the past. It appears our competitors will be following suit in the near future.”

While the Ting announcement actually comes a day after the big shared data plan announcement from Verizon (NYSE:VZ), the Ting plan itself will precede Verizon’s June 28 launch by nearly five months. Check out the Ting plans at for more details on rates and features and the Ting savings calculator to see how much money you could be saving.

Noss also hinted at plans to launch a shareware site.