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A Ting device update: here now, coming soon and beyond

Photo by Ting Employee Frank Lemire

It has been an exciting month since our last device update. While it has certainly been the most challenging in our short lifetime, we continue to make improvements and learn valuable lessons. We had anticipated further stress on the device ecosystem as a result of the deployment of LTE, but we were a little surprised at some of the issues we encountered. There is an expression “it is always darkest before the dawn,” and while we have had some challenges in the last 30 days, we are quite optimistic that things are going to get better in the near term.

As a public company, there are restrictions around how much information we can share in regards to our sales performance, but I can say that we have been doing well in spite of having some holes in our device lineup. This has placed additional stress on our inventory, but unlike many of the other challenges we have faced, we are thrilled to have this problem! Thanks to all who have helped spread the word!

Ting devices available now or coming soon

One of our most popular devices, the LG Optimus S, has sold out as of last week. We were always planning to replace it with the next generation model, but we were caught short-handed and had hoped to have it around for a little longer. The new Optimus Elite will be made available for sale as soon as we have confidence in shipping dates. Hopefully this will be online for pre-order in the next two weeks. We are working on getting some more Optimus S at a reduced price point, but can not confirm this today.

The Samsung Conquer is back in stock after being on backorder, however this device will no longer be available once we sell our current inventory. So if you are planning on getting this device, order soon!

The Samsung Transform Ultra is a very capable and popular device. We’re pleased to report we have it in stock again. After slipping into a backorder state recently, we have a good supply and expect to have it in our lineup for the next few months. We have had lots of positive feedback from customers on this well designed phone.

In the feature phone segment, we know there is a LOT of demand for a flip phone. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we have had a hole in this segment for longer than we would like. The Kyocera Brio is a great value in the low-end, but for those who MUST have a flip phone, we expect to offer the Samsung M370 for pre-order in the next 2-3 weeks.

Looking further ahead…

Early in the fall we expect to offer a new Samsung slider at a great price point. It looks like we will also have a feature phone designed for seniors. That is, it has a large, easy to see and use numeric pad NOT a built in bingo app. Perfect for getting Grandma and Grandpa saving with Ting.

We are in the process of building in support for LTE within our backend systems, and while it is not that big of a job for our rockstar development team, there are some dependencies outside our control that prevent me from giving a firm launch date today. This is a high priority for us though, as many of the iconic devices we plan on offering in the fall will be LTE devices.

The LG Viper will be our first LTE device, available for ~$365 when we launch LTE. The Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC Evo 4G will be available shortly thereafter, barring any issues outside our control.

We have had a lot of demand for the Google Galaxy Nexus, and have spent a lot of time working on being able to get it for you. Because it is an LTE device,  we must first launch LTE before making it available. I wish I could tell you that I am certain we will be able to get it after we launch LTE, but as of this morning I can not do that. Rest assured we are working on it, and if there is any way we can, we will.

The word on Windows 8 devices is that we are waiting for more information on what the roadmap looks like for later this year. My sense is that these plans are being finalized now / soon, and once we have more details we can properly evaluate how that might work for us. We have had a lot of demand for Windows devices, and we hear you!

Ting devices: On sale now!

As a token of our appreciation to everyone who has provided us with feedback, promoted our services, helped out other customers in the forums, or just been patient in waiting for devices to ship or become available, we are having an impromptu “it’s summer and we are always learning more about the device supply chain” sale (catchy title, no?) on some devices. Anyone who bought these devices in the last 30 days can contact customer support to get a credit for the difference.

The Samsung Galaxy S2 (white) is back in stock, and we are pleased to offer it for $435, saving you $50!

After some supply issues, we are relieved to have the Huawei Express Mobile Hotspot back in stock and available for sale, at a reduced price of $110! Supplies are limited though, so don’t delay if you want one.

We have also reduced the price for the Sierra 250U 3G/4G USB data stick as of today, and is a great value for Windows users. Once we sell through our current inventory they will no longer be available.

If you are interested in having us contact you with breaking device news as it happens, you can sign up for our red alert, super special, breathless, breaking device news mailing list using the form below, or follow us on Facebook / Twitter.

As always, thanks for your comments, questions, and support of Ting!

Why doesn’t Ting have the iPhone?

Often, when we talk with potential Ting customers about handsets, the iPhone will come
up. With good reason; even for an Android devotee, the iPhone 4s is an undeniably sweet smartphone.

Around Ting HQ, we’re largely Android users. Many of us made the switch to Android from the iPhone when Ting first came online and never looked back; Android has really come into its own as an excellent OS unto itself. That said, as a mobile company, we would love to be able to offer the iPhone to customers that want it.

To be frank, device supply has been one of the the biggest challenges we’ve faced. While our customers love the idea of paying for minutes, messages and megabytes separately without overages or silly add-on fees, they also want the latest smartphones. We’re geeks first so we understand the all-consuming desire for the latest and greatest gadgets all too well.

The current mobile status quo sees the big name telcos securing device exclusives for their customers by making minimum sales commitments, offering joint marketing efforts including big budget TV commercials and deep device subsidies to lessen sticker shock and bolster sales. In short, device exclusives come down to volume. Carrier subsidized devices also mean term contracts on expensive “unlimited” plans and early termination fees (ETFs) for early exit.

OK… so why don’t you have the iPhone?

Apple has many requirements that a carrier must meet before they can offer the iPhone. The arrangement is very similar to the way device exclusives work but without any actual exclusives being offered.

Apple’s iconic smartphone enjoys a healthy premium over other smartphones whose specs match or even beat out the iPhone. Apple is obviously very careful to protect this premium… and really, who wouldn’t be?

Minimum purchase commitments are but one (albeit very significant) part of the requirements a carrier must promise to meet before it can offer the iPhone to its customers.

Case in point: Sprint’s February 2012 purchase commitment for $15.5b worth of iPhones over the next four years.

Another of the requirements is that a carrier must offer its own support, both for the network (obviously) but also for the iPhone itself. That speaks to one of our core competencies; among our other device-specific support, we offer extensive video start-up guides for all our phones. We offer unparalleled customer support with no-hold, no-transfer customer service at 1-855-TING-FTW. We have extensive help and support documentation on our customer support site.

Apple protects its price by having carriers offer iPhone device subsidies to minimize sticker shock. With subsidies come contracts, early termination fees, upgrade fees and other gotchas.

We’ve heard from customers that they’d be willing to sign a contract if we could offer the iPhone. While we appreciate the sentiment and the trust it demonstrates, mobile contracts go against our core beliefs as a company. They’re complex, which runs contrary to our “mobile that makes sense” mantra. While they allow customers to get the latest and greatest phone with a smaller up-front investment, they’re back-loaded and don’t have customers’ best interests at heart. In short, we don’t now nor will we ever deal in contracts.

We’re working to find other ways we can offer the iPhone to Ting customers. It’s a complicated issue. While we’re knocking on many doors (front, back and side), we don’t expect to have anything of substance to report in the immediate future.

Looking at the list of carriers currently offering the iPhone though, we like our odds.

If the time comes that we can indeed offer the iPhone, the Ting sticker price would be the full, unlocked iPhone price.

We’ll keep you posted as and if we have news on this front. For now though, know that we’re always working on it.

EDIT: We’re offering regular device updates here on the Ting blog. Previously, we didn’t want to talk about our device lineup efforts before they bore fruit for fear of disappointing you. We’ve since realized that wasn’t very Ting of us. Please take these device update posts for what they are: an update on our efforts to get the latest and greatest devices. Not a set in stone device roadmap. With that said, please do take a look if you’d like to know what we’re working on on the device front.

Ting international calling rates

Recently, we talked about Ting’s international texting rates here on the Ting blog. This week, we’re going to tackle international calling rates, which are a little more complicated. To be clear, we’re talking about calling from the US to an international number. We’re not talking about roaming outside of the US which is an entirely different discussion.

While texting from the US to an international number falls under the standard ¼¢ per SMS rate, international calling is not so simple. Well the process is simple; dial the country and area code then the local number. Breaking down the cost however, that’s not quite so simple.

You can see the full list of international calling rates on the International Calling Surcharges page. The short version: International calling surcharges range from $0.05/min. (Singapore) to $2.50/min. (Diego Garcia which I just learned “is a tropical, footprint-shaped coral atoll located south of the equator in the central Indian Ocean.” [Thanks, Wikipedia]).

These rates are surcharges which means you’ll be using a voice minute plus paying the per minute surcharge when calling international numbers.

This is about the most complicated aspect of Ting and hopefully we’ve been very clear on our contempt for complexity in mobile. In this very specific case though, it can’t be avoided. The surcharges themselves though, those can be avoided…

Avoiding international calling surcharges:

There are a couple of good ways to get around these surcharges. One is to grab an international calling card and use it instead to make international calls. Using the hard pause and hold features in your phone’s you can even prepend your most often called contacts with the calling card’s 800 number (Wait) your PIN number (Pause) then the number your want to dial. Check out this video tutorial on adding extension info to your contacts in Android for more detail on doing that.

Another way to make your international calls cheaper is with Skype or Google Voice on your Wi-Fi network. With Skype, you can make international calls to 30 countries for 2.3¢/min. plus a connection fee that varies with the country you’re calling and whether you’re ringing a mobile number or a landline. Google Voice international calling rates vary too. From 2¢/min (a landline in the Netherlands) to $2.29/min.. The $2.29 rate only applies if you have friend or family member in the Netherlands who’s still using a pager… and really, who doesn’t have at least one of those.

International texting on Ting

We’ve received several questions about how and if international texting works on Ting. That is, texting from the United States to a phone outside the US.

International texting does indeed work on Ting, and our rates best those of other carriers. No need to grab a calculator; we do after all like to keep things simple: International text messages are billed at the regular Ting text message rate which is 1/4¢. If you opted for the Medium level for text messages for example (1,000 messages, $5) then international text messages are counted as one of your 1,000 messages. This rate applies to text messages both incoming and outgoing.

To send a text message across international borders, just enter the regular phone number prepended with the country and area code. If you’re familiar with international calling, the process is exactly the same.

Use the handy Country Calling Codes directory to figure out exactly what digits you need to prepend to your foreign friend’s phone number.

If you save your friend’s contact information with the full country and area code already prepended to their local phone number, you can save yourself a lot of hassle.

For example, to text a friend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia you’d save the contact as 011603 then the person’s local number. To text a friend in London, England it’s 01144 then the local number.

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 ting.com/plans for more details on rates and features and the Ting savings calculator ting.com/calculator to see how much money you could be saving.

Noss also hinted at plans to launch a shareware site.