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Comparing Mobile Plans
A Ting Approach

Whether by happenstance or by design, it is exceedingly difficult to fairly and accurately compare mobile plans. No two wireless providers seem to use the same math or the same nomenclature.

It becomes doubly difficult when trying to compare mobile data plans. What’s a megabyte worth? How many does one realistically need? Should we opt for the cheaper, smaller data plan and risk paying hefty overage charges should we exceed our allotment? Or should we go for the unlimited plan and, while we may end up overpaying for our underused mobile data connection, at least we overpay predictably.

Mobile Data Usage Averages:

Mobile data demands are steadily growing, yet the average user in Q1 2011 used 435MB of mobile data according to Nielsen. We paid, on average, $0.08 per megabyte in the same period, according to the research.

While the average cost per MB has predictably moved downward as usage has climbed, we’re still overpaying for mobile service, especially mobile data. The culprit is often unlimited or high-cap plans.

Chart - US mobile data use by percentileWhile the 99th percentile of smartphone users breached the 4GB mark for monthly smartphone data use in Q1 2011 and might benefit from such unlimited plans (that or a decent Wi-Fi network, just saying), even in the 90th percentile usage tops out at closer to 1GB in the same period.

When comparing mobile plans — and especially when comparing data plans — it’s important to get an idea of your actual use. If you’re already a mobile data user, that’s easy. Just look on your monthly bill or better yet, take an aggregate of your use from across a few bills.

If you’re not already on the mobile data train, think realistically about what you’re going to want to do with mobile data. If you want to watch YouTube videos all the way to and from the office every day then you’ll be in the aforementioned 99th percentile. If however, like most people, you want to check in with your friends on social media, send and receive email, read the day’s news and so on, your use will be closer to the average, using less than 500MB / mo..

Overestimating Mobile Use:

We tend to overestimate our mobile data needs which means we’re predisposed to overpay. The BillShrink study that is the basis for the CNET article linked earlier in this post suggests we’re also overestimating our voice and text message use. The average user estimates they chat for 711 wireless minutes per month where the average is more like 651. They estimate they use an average of 2,566 text messages where reality puts the number a full 1,000 fewer.

Rather than bundling minutes, text messages and megabytes together under a plan, Ting lets you pick the service levels that are right for you. In the Ting Control Panel, we let you take control of your use. If you want to cap the minute, text message or data use at a certain threshold, you can. What’s more, you can set different rules for different devices under your plan. If you exceed your estimated usage for the month, Ting bumps you up to the next service level. If you use less, we’ll drop you down and credit the difference on your next bill.

Given that no two mobile service providers seem to speak the same language, it’s nigh on impossible to fairly compare mobile plans. It’s especially difficult to compare mobile data plans. However, grab a couple of recent bills from your current service provider and try the Ting Calculator. That’s about the fairest comparison you’ll find and chances are, you’ll save money with Ting.

Five Extreme Ways to Lower your Cell Phone Bill

Appolicious site logoRecently, Appolicious saw its way clear to include Ting in its Five extreme ways to lower your cell phone bill article. Aside from being fans of the site in general, we’re genuinely chuffed to have been included in the roundup.

When we first started talking about Ting, we worried whether the wireless-buying public would “get it;” the Ting idea is a unique one in that we don’t bundle services together into plans. Rather, we offer different buckets for voice minutes, text messages and megabytes that would-be users can choose from. Allowing an unlimited number of devices on an account with minutes, messages and megabytes pooled and shared between devices is also unique in the industry.

We (as in Ting) see this as a logical way to buy and use mobile service. That said, we (as in the mobile buying public) have been conditioned to expect bundled minutes, messages and megabytes along with penalties for using more than we expected. Likewise, we’ve been conditioned to accept two-year contracts that can’t be breached on pain of death. Well maybe not death… but grievous injury to the pocketbook.

Apparently, we needn’t have worried. This Appolicious article, and others we’ll link to at the end of this post, goes to show that people get it. Separating out minutes, messages and megabytes, eschewing contracts and generally giving customers the tools they need to control their usage and bills isn’t such an out-there concept. It’s also heartening to see other uniquely Ting concepts brought to light. Specifically, automatically bumping users up to the next bucket if they use more than they thought they would or dropping them down and crediting their next bill if they use less.

This article, and the many more column inches we’re grateful to have received, shows that we have some work to do yet. Specifically, we need to do a better job of explaining why asking users to buy their own device as opposed to offering a deeply discounted device by signing a contract is a strength as opposed to a weakness. That’s a subject for another post but the short version: You’re better off buying a device on a credit card than getting one from a mobile service provider. Even the high interest rates that plastic providers demand are better than the rates a mobile provider offers.

If we have any quibble with the article it’s with the headline. “Five extreme ways to lower your cell phone bill” could just as easily be “five varyingly logical ways to lower your cell phone bill” though in fairness, it has nowhere near the same cachet.

Ting Elsewhere in the News

TechCrunch: Tucows Officially Launches Ting, a More Thoughtful Wireless Carrier

CNET: New Ting Cell Phone Service Turns Contracts on Their Head

Gigaom: Look Out Big Telcos: Ting Shares Data Across Devices

Engadget: Tucows Launches a Contract-Free Mobile Service on Sprint's Network

Fox Business: New Mobile Carrier Ting Offers Truly Customizable Smartphone Plans

PC Mag: Tucows Launches Contract-Free Mobile Provider Ting

MobileBurn: Ting's No Contract, Pain-Free Wireless Services Now Available

Understanding Mobile Phone Taxes and Regulatory Fees

Taxes and regulatory fees on your mobile phone plan have the mark of government all over them. That is to say they’re a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Cell phone regulatory fees vary from state to state, from county to county and in some cases, city to city. These taxes and regulatory fees are nigh on impossible to predict. It’s frustrating for you and it’s frustrating for us too.

First, let’s be as clear as possible on what taxes and regulatory fees you’ll pay with Ting. To quote the sign in a little shawarma shop near Ting HQ; we don’t charge tax, we collect it. Ting only collects what we are legally required to collect… and what we’re required to collect varies widely depending on a number of factors. Things like state, county and city factor in. So does overall usage. 911 access charges vary widely. Some states charge Telecommunication Relay Service (TRS) fees, some charge Public Utility Commission (PUC) fees. Some charge neither. Some both.

Contrary to the industry norm, Ting does not charge any recovery or administrative fees. We figure these taxes and fees are already high and complicated enough.

Current data on cell phone service taxes and fees is inexplicably hard to come by. The latest data is in KSE Partners LLP’s A Growing Burden: Taxes and Fees on Wireless Service, compiled by Scott Mackey.

The national weighted average tax burden is about 16.25 per cent. For ease of calculation, tack that much onto your usage estimates. To get a more accurate idea of what you’ll pay, take a look at the exhaustive tables that Mackey has compiled, detailing all the taxes and fees charged by each state, broken down by county where appropriate, in the Taxes and Fees on Wireless Service study.

The top-five most heavily taxed states for mobile service are:
(combined federal and state)

  • Nebraska at 23.69%
  • Washington at 23.00%
  • New York at 22.83%
  • Florida at 21.62%
  • Illinois at 20.90%

The five least heavily taxed states are:
(combined federal and state)

  • West Virginia at 11.28%
  • Montana at 11.08%
  • Idaho at 7.25%
  • Nevada at 7.13%
  • Oregon at 6.86%

To see where your state / municipality falls in the grand scheme of taxes and regulatory fees, see the list on Table 2 in A Growing Burden: Taxes and Fees on Wireless Service.

For a more detailed breakdown of each of the fees, levies, taxes, charges and other synonyms too numerous to mention, wade through table four of said document.

We’re sorry the answer isn’t simpler or more definitive, but we will keep trying (here and on everything else) to give you as much visibility as we can so your payments are as clear and predictable as possible.

Picking the Right Mobile Plan

Illustration: Comparing mobile phone plansDoing a reasonable cell phone plan comparison from the majors to the smaller players is exceedingly difficult. There’s no one language that all mobile service providers speak. Plans seem to have been designed by the engineering team, not the customer experience or customer service team.

Trying to find the best mobile service plan can go one of a few of ways, in our observation.

Option one: We create a comparison of mobile plans spreadsheet. We tabulate column upon column of data, weighting the things that are important to us, applying formulas to the spreadsheet and hoping that one of these calculations works out to the perfect plan.

Option two: After several hours (or weeks or months) of looking at different combinations of bundled voice, text messages and megabytes with different benefits and detriments, we give up on mobile plan comparisons and just play a game of pin the tail on the service provider.

Option three: A service provider is the only one that has that specific phone we’ve had our eyes on. We lock into a two-year contract and end up paying for the device many times over, long after it’s lost its lustre… perhaps even after it’s been lost.

Rather than present you with a wall of data comparing mobile phone plans’ mean cost per minute, megabyte or message, accrued cost of call display, vector of voicemail expense, aggregate cost per additional device or any number of other dry column headings, we’ll just invite you to try the Ting cost calculator. Grab a bill from any mobile service provider. Plug in your minute, message and megabyte use for a month or a couple of months and see if Ting can save you money on your mobile bill.

You can also just estimate your monthly use. Funny thing though: We, as in mobile service users, tend to over-estimate our monthly mobile usage. Grossly. In fact, that’s the biggest reason we generally over-pay for our mobile service.

What the Heck is a G and
How Many Do I Need?

At Ting, we’re fans of simplicity. We like to offer simple tools you can use to decide if Ting is right for you. If it is, we give you simple tools to take control of your account.

Mobile standards, that is 3G, 4G et. al., are the latest in a long series of ways major telcos confuse us, whether unintentionally or otherwise. As Doc Searles pointed out in a recent article, major telcos often operate as confusopolies; they provide the illusion of choice but in the end, consumers end up picking the plan and service level that’s … the least crappy, for want of a better description.

People want the fastest mobile data, the highest call quality and the most reliable communications. They understand (at least in general terms) that means 4G.

Now we’re hearing more and more about 4G LTE. An exciting mobile technology but yet another TLA we have to try to wrap our heads around. We’ll delve briefly into LTE in a moment.

Ting is an MVNO reseller of Sprint’s nationwide mobile network. As such, we’re able to offer 4G service wherever Sprint’s 4G network reaches. Basically, that means major city centers around the US. You can see if your city is covered on the Ting coverage map. All speeds that follow use Sprint’s published baselines.

What is 4G?

4G is a newer mobile standard. It offers average download speeds of 3-6 Mbps and peak speeds of 10 Mbps. That means speeds of between about 0.38 MB/s on the low end and up to 1.25 MB/s on the high. In real-world terms, a single 4MB song download should take between three seconds on the high end and about 11 seconds on the low. Extrapolating that, you could grab a 12-song album in around about 2 min 15 sec at the low end or under 40 seconds at the high end.

Not all Ting phones can take advantage of the 4G network. At present, Ting has four 4G phones and two 4G data devices. They are:

What is 3G?

3G is a current mobile standard. It offers much improved data speeds than previous generations (2G and 1G). As it’s been in commercial applications for about a decade, it’s also available just about everywhere in North America.

3G offers average download speeds of between 600 Kbps and 1.4 Mbps and a peak download speed of up to 3.1 Mbps.

To use the same example as we used previously, that means our 4MB song downloads in between and 10 seconds at the high end and about 55 seconds on the low.

Every and data device and smartphone in Ting’s device catalog, including the aforementioned 4G devices, can access the 3G network. Ting feature phones work on the 2G CDMA (CDMA2000 1xRTT) network.


The next major leap forward for mobile connections is LTE. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. While it’s a viable network technology today and offers some pretty impressive near broadband speeds in best case scenarios, it is first and foremost, as the LTE intialism suggests, a plan to ensure that mobile networks can continue to meet our growing mobile demands.

Aside from offering hitherto unseen speeds on wireless networks, LTE can also cram up to 10 times as many users onto a cell and uses its band of the frequency spectrum four times as efficiently as compared with CDMA technology. As existing towers and access points are upgraded to the LTE network, that means a mobile infrastructure that should meet our needs for the next decade. After which… well, who knows what’s next.

Ting doesn’t currently offer any LTE devices, but we’ll definitely keep you posted.

Making sense of your existing wireless bill

It can be tough understanding what the heck your current provider is billing you for and how much service you used in previous months. In an effort to help, we’ve put together these short videos to help you read your existing wireless bill.

After you figure things out, why not pop over to our Savings Calculator and plug in your own numbers? You might be surprised to learn how much Ting can save you.

Reading your Verizon bill

Reading your AT&T Bill