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What does the SoftBank
Sprint investment mean for Ting?

We’ve received several questions about what the SoftBank / Sprint investment announced recently means for Ting and, by extension, other MVNOs.

At Tucows, we work with thousands of resellers around the world and we manage millions of domain names. We understand the importance of the partner / provider relationship so when we looked for a carrier network to partner with in order to pursue Ting, we chose very carefully. Sprint was the right choice for a number of reasons, some of which I’ve discussed before and some we’ve explored elsewhere on the Ting blog. Sprint’s commitment to its partner MVNOs remains as strong as ever.

More importantly, I believe the investment will be a positive for Sprint, and therefore for us, for three reasons: Better leadership, better capitalization and a more global focus.

Leadership:

SoftBank is, at its roots, an Internet company. Masayoshi Son rose to prominence in the dot-­com boom and managed to stay there. SoftBank is not a traditional telco. Their entrepreneurial spirit and Internet foundations marry perfectly with Tucows and with Ting specifically.

Capital:

Sprint was a little weak in its balance sheet. Softbank has provided capital and will allow better access to additional capital. SoftBank is a great source of thought leadership and greater capital access. The alternatives would be much more traditional players and could have potentially held greater risk. The less traditional the player, the better it is for us in my view. This capital access also comes with great LTE experience and expertise.

Global focus:

Finally, SoftBank is more global in focus. We are small but very global with partners in over 120 countries around the world. As things evolve, having a global player like SoftBank as a partner makes it more likely that we will be able to think globally when it comes to Ting and mobile. This will help all Ting customers.

I note that the incumbent major mobile carriers are very influential and can present a story angle to the media to cast doubt on the wisdom behind the SoftBank/Sprint investment. In fact, I’m pretty sure I can can already hear the spin machine coming up to full RPM. I would not at all be surprised to see some nasty negative stories over the next couple of weeks, but from our perspective we like the potential that this new relationship brings.

As always, questions and comments are welcome.

BYO(S)D: an update and behind the scenes

The first BYO(S)D device is now active on Ting. There are five more similar activations in the hopper that will be live on Ting by the end of this week as a part of our early alpha testing. This is the start of phase one of the BYO(S)D program. It also means we’ve hit our first major milestone and BYO(S)D is moving ever closer.

We’ve learned a lot about the BYO(S)D process through our initial tests and we’re confident we’ll be able to offer up a smooth and seamless experience on launch.

We mentioned previously that we’re going to divide the beta period up into two phases. We’ve decided we need to do the same thing for the alpha testing. Any impact on the timing for our beta phases looks like it will be negligible. Our previous BYO(S)D timing predictions are still the best we have.

Phase one alpha (underway):

This alpha test will be devices that fall under the category of low-hanging fruit: They are inactive devices coming from an existing Ting customer who already has the master subsidy lock (MSL, the code that locks a device to a specific carrier), there’s no number porting required and the customer isn’t concerned about when specifically we do the activation.

The phase one alpha will bring Sprint devices from five members of the Ting Army over. We’ll be working closely with these brave souls to identify any issues in the process which, as it stands currently, requires human intervention on our part.

BYO(S)D isn’t going to be efficient (for us or you) if each new activation requires a call to customer service. Our goal is to make calls to the help desk an exception as opposed to a rule. That’s why we’re breaking the initial testing into multiple phases, each step allowing for more devices to make the move than the one before it.

Phase two alpha:

This will be a somewhat broader test of the process. Rather than automating at this stage, the process will still be a manual one. What we’ll be testing here is a broader range of devices and variables such as porting a number and bringing over a device that has active service. We’ll be testing the top five most popular devices which, judging by your responses to our BYO(S)D survey and optional beta sign-up, should cover as much as 80% of the devices we’ll be activating. Those five devices are:

  1. HTC EVO 4G
  2. Samsung Galaxy SII (Epic Touch 4G)
  3. LG Optimus S
  4. HTC EVO 3D 4G
  5. Motorola Photon 4G

The remaining about 20% of devices is spread much more broadly across as many as 100 different devices. That, my friends, is what we call a challenge. It’s one we have a plan to tackle though.

Phase one beta:

We’re still on target to launch this first beta wave at the end of this month or early next. The specific timing is flexible. Necessarily so given that the purpose of these phases is to test the process, find and fix the friction points. While we have a good idea of what to expect we won’t be surprised to see some surprises. Wait, what?

This phase will be another manual one but with some testers (from among the most popular devices) attempting the automated process that we’re working on.

Phase two beta:

This phase will test the automated procedure for the most popular devices. We’ll have a beta of the Ting my Android Phone app in testing too. The process for bringing a Sprint device over to Ting will be web-based with an optional Android app which will find and apply the MSL to unlock the device, will send your phone’s ESN to Ting servers such that it’s registered with us and ready to be activated.

We’ll also open this phase up for beta testers to bring over any Sprint device at all, though we’ll be asking for feedback and insight into the process such that we can begin to document how the process works for the ~100 devices that make up the aforementioned ~20%.

Challenges:

The challenges we’ve encountered and that we expect to encounter are of the fun problem solving and team building as opposed to the insurmountable and hair rending varieties. One of the biggest challenges is to make it easy for non-geeks to be able manually reprogram MMS and 4G (WiMAX) “data realm” settings from Sprint to Ting. 3G and LTE (when LTE devices are available for BYOD) will require no such end-user intervention. We’re looking to add the ability to reprogram these settings into the Ting app which will mean Android devices are well looked after. We’ve exploring what the best option is for feature phone users.

Also, some older model feature phones cannot have their MMS settings changed. As such, MMS wouldn’t work at all. We expect this issue to be confined to a very small portion of feature phones; basically anything that was manufactured back when MMS was a new concept… so yeah, a very small portion.

We’re making great progress on BYO(S)D. We’ve added further testing phases to ensure that when we launch, the BYO(S)D program is ready for primetime.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already, please take a moment to fill out our BYO(S)D survey and beta program / beta news signup sheet below.

Device Update: New news for new as in new and news for new as in refurbished

In this week’s device update we’ve got a fair bit of news, as hinted in the headline. We’ve got a couple of new phones inbound to Ting and we’ve got a little more detail to share on the home phone solution and the refurbished devices we mentioned in last week’s update.

New as in new

LG Optimus G


We’ll be adding this device in mid to late November… it’s quite a device too. We’ve always liked LG’s handsets as they stay very close to stock Android and don’t make a bunch of unnecessary modifications to the operating system. While we know that tech specs only tell part of the story, what’s on offer here is very impressive: This LTE device has a 4.7-inch display at 768×1280, 32 GB of internal storage, 2 GB of RAM and a quad-core 1.5 GHz processor. It runs Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box. LG has already announced plans to release Android 4.1, Jelly Bean to this and select other devices in the near term too.

Price is as yet TBD but as always, we’ll offer it up for very close to our own purchase price.

Note that this is not the currently rumoured LG Optimus G Nexus… we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE


The Samsung Galaxy Victory is a powerful LTE-ready smartphone and it will hit the Ting lineup very soon. It steps in where the Samsung Galaxy SII lets off, that device having been removed from the Ting lineup for the immediately foreseeable future. It adds accessing the LTE network to its bag of tricks over the SII. The Victory is the entry level LTE-ready device in Ting’s lineup… but “entry level” is an unfair categorization for this very capable smartphone: The dual-core 1.2GHz processor, 4-inch WVGA display and the 5 MP camera belie the Victory’s price tag of around $300

You’ll note that we haven’t made a single pun in writing about the Victory. We’d call that a win. Wait a second…

Samsung Array M390


The Samsung Array (M390) will be available to order from Ting early next week. We’re excited to add this device to our lineup not only ensure our feature phone selection hits the major touchstones, it’s also a very nice phone in its own right.

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced feature phone whose main role in your life is to make calls and send text messges, this landscape QWERTY slider might just be the perfect bet. Aside from doing all the usual feature phone things, it also lets you link up with social media (Facebook, Twitter), send and receive emails and visit the data-sipping mobile versions of your favorite web sites.

New as in refurbished

We’ll be offering up the Samsung Transform Ultra and the LG Marquee as refurbished options this week. The LG Marquee just hit our devices page. This is a jump forward from the previously outlined timeframe for these devices and we’re pleased to be able to offer both up for under $100.

Other devices inbound

Home Phone Connect


We talked a little about this in our previous device update. Now it seems we’ll be able to add the Home Phone Connect to our list of available devices sooner than the originally stated six to eight weeks.

Home Phone Connect doesn’t get quite the attention of a cutting-edge smartphone. That said, we’re excited to be able to offer it up. This device lets you use your existing analog (landline) phones and acts just like any other Ting device on your account, using your pooled Ting voice minutes.

Home numbers can already be ported over to Ting, it’s just that now, the case for doing so is more compelling. Grabbing a Home Phone Connect and porting your home number could mean significant savings. If everyone in the family already has a mobile device and the home phone goes largely unused but you’re not ready to cut that cord entirely, chances are good that your home phone via Home Phone Connect won’t even push you out of your chosen bucket for voice minutes. If that’s true of your usage, that could mean cutting your home phone bill down to just the $6 per device fee that’s standard across Ting.

Pricing and exact availability are as yet TBD but we expect to add it to our lineup at $100 +/- about $10 in as soon two to three weeks. The variability in price comes from the fact that our own cost for Home Phone Connect isn’t 100% nailed down as yet.

LTE data stick(s)

We’re working to have at least one data stick and / or card in our lineup before the end of the year. Which data stick or card specifically is unfortunately unknown at present. Sprint is currently testing a wide array of LTE data sticks that we MVNOs can opt to offer up. We’ll provide more details as things become more clear.

We often ask our Facebook community which devices they want to see. If you want to get in on that voting, come on over! (one of us, one of us). We’re also doing a giveaway of one Samsung Galaxy SIII 16 GB for use on Ting. Just share this Facebook post linking to the Ting calculator and you’re automatically entered. This particular give-away ends Friday, October 12 at noon ET.

Device update: New refurbs, Home Phone Connect and a look at what 2013 will bring

As we said in our recent BYOD update, our trip to Sprint HQ in Kansas City was very productive. In addition to making progress on the important subjects of BYOD, new devices and refurbished devices, we also had a chance to talk through our device delivery. We’ll be talking about improvements in the warehouse and what they mean soon. In the interim though, here’s this week’s device update.

Device lineup – Short term

New refurbs available soon on Ting

LG Marquee

We’ll be adding the LG Marquee to our lineup as a refurbished device at under $100. Obvious biases aside (full disclosure: I work here) it’s a great price for a pretty sweet phone. It’s got a 4-inch screen, a 1 GHz processor, half a gig of RAM and 2 GB of internal storage which can be added to with an inexpensive microSD card. PC Mag went so far as to give it their Editor’s Choice award.

Samsung Transform Ultra

We’ve already got the Samsung Transform Ultra in our device lineup. We’ll be adding it in as a refurbished option too for less than half but a little more than a third the $205 price when purchased new. You do the math!

The big draw here is the full QWERTY keyboard, ideal for the heavy texting and emailing sets. With a 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM running Android 2.3, Gingerbread it’s not the absolute cutting edge. However, it’s been very well received and we’re happy to be able to offer it up at at a price that can only be called compelling.

We’re looking to have both the Samsung Transform Ultra and the LG Marquee available in the next couple or few weeks, supply chain willing. We don’t currently see any reason this timeframe won’t be met.

Home Phone Connect

We’ll be adding Home Phone Connect to our lineup in six to eight weeks. This device connects to the cell network but lets you use your own analog phones, including cordless phones, to talk. When Home Phone Connect launches on Ting you’ll be able to port over your home (landline) phone number. I mean, you can do that too… but when Home Phone Connect launches on Ting, you’ll have even more reason to do so.

While it’s not officially supported, reports are that you can plug the Home Phone Connect into a standard phone outlet in your house and light up your existing home phone wiring. That way, any analog phone you plug in to an existing phone jack will work (assuming, of course, that your home phone wiring is in good shape).

Device lineup – Longer term

Windows Phone

We’re looking ahead to the device lineup for the first half of 2013. We’ll be adding a Windows Phone device running the latest version of the mobile OS within this time. Worst case scenario for Windows Phone on Ting: We’ll have the latest WP device sixty days after Sprint begins offering it. Best case: We’ll have it at the same time as it becomes available in Sprint’s lineup.

Nexus

Rather than saying that we expect the next Nexus device will be available on Ting, instead we’ll say we don’t currently see any reason it won’t be available on Ting. It’s a small but important distinction. We’ll share more detail as soon as there’s more to share. If the rumor mill is true, the next Nexus will be made by LG and it’ll be a quad-core smartphone with 2 GB of RAM, a 1280x768px display and 16 GB of internal storage.

iPhone

If didn’t make reference to the iPhone, the first comment on this device update would be asking about the iPhone. You know it and we know it.

We continue to make slow progress on the iPhone front. In this, the last quarter of the year, new partnerships are a low priority for Apple. Understandable given that they want to focus on the busy holiday sales period.

We do expect that next year, some form of iOS device will be usable on Ting. Alas, whether that’s the earlier or the latter half of the year we cannot yet say. Likewise, whether that means an other-than-the-latest iPhone becomes eligible for BYOD or whether we’ll be selling the iPhone directly (or both) is unclear. As always, we’re eager to share news as it becomes available… but we’re not interested in creating false hope. As we know more, you’ll know more.

Keep apprised of all our device news by following the Device Update category here on the Ting blog. You can also sign up for email alerts of new devices as they’re added or gain some insight into what we’re up to by creating a Ting account (no purchase required, of course) or by opting in for for device alerts and / or newsletters in your existing Ting account.

BYO(S)D – Moving ever closer to Ting

tl;dr: A Ting BYOD timeline:

Now:
Alpha testing underway
Late October:
Phase one beta launch target

Since we announced our BYOD plans for Q4 of this year, we’ve fielded innumerable questions and received thousands of entries in the Ting BYO(S)D beta program.

When the calendar flipped from September to October, Q4 officially started. We promised we’d share news as early in Q4 as we possibly could. It’s still early in Q4. This is as early as we possibly could. That said, we’ll have more detail to share once we’ve had a chance to do some of our own testing.

A couple of members of the Ting team just returned from Kansas City, home to Sprint HQ. Our top priorities for this meeting were to talk about BYOD and to put the things in place that would allow us to move forward quickly.

We also wanted to get a much clearer idea of what the device lineup will look like at the end of this and in to next year.

We wanted to get more and better refurbished devices that we could in turn offer up to you.

We’re pleased to report it’s check on all fronts; the rare trifecta of check. The latter two points we’ll cover in a device update, coming soon. This update is all about BYOD.

BYOD on Ting – a timeframe

BYO(S)D will allow us to bring just about any Sprint device over to Ting, including devices from other MVNOs but excluding the Boost and Virgin brands. Other exclusions we’ve mentioned before and include the iPhone, BlackBerry devices, Push to Talk devices and a few others.

Any device that isn’t on the blacklist and that has a valid ESN is eligible to move carriers. To have a valid ESN it must be a device that has not been reported lost or stolen and that isn’t tied to an account that’s not in good standing. We’re working on an online tool that will check a device ESN to ensure it’s legit, in part to foster the used device market.

While in Kansas City we got the whitelist of devices that will be able to make the move to Ting. It’s a long list. We’ve also compiled entries from the Ting BYOD beta program form and are in the process of selecting the best devices to focus our early efforts on for BYOD.

We have already started on a very small alpha program comprising a few members of the Ting Army. They’ll be working with us to test BYOD as we learn more about the process. We’re hoping we can begin to roll out the phase one beta as soon as the end of this month.

Challenges with BYOD on Ting

The biggest challenges thus far have been technical; there’s a lot that has to happen behind the scenes to provision a device from Sprint or from another MVNO and bring it over to Ting. Sprint is hard at work on an API that we can use to move a device. Until that’s in place, the BYOD process will require some intervention from our customer service team. Until more of the process can be a simple and hands-off affair, we won’t be opening BYOD up fully. As important as BYOD is to us and to you, it quickly loses its luster if it’s a manual process that doesn’t scale.

Ting my phone Android app

We’re hard at work on building an Android app that will do all the work: Checking the ESN on a Sprint device, registering that ESN as a Ting device and moving it under your Ting account. Until the aforementioned API is in place, the stuff going on behind the scenes of this Android app will be somewhat less than elegant. That said, it will demonstrate what’s possible. If all goes according to plan we’ll have this app in place for the phase one beta.

How the beta will work

We mentioned we’ve already started on a very small alpha test. Once that’s completed we’ll roll out the phase one beta which will be limited to the five or six most popular devices (as pulled from the Ting BYO(S)D survey and beta entry form), hopefully at the end of this month. Once this alpha and first phase beta testing are completed, we’ll roll a phase two beta out and offer it to everyone that filled out the aforementioned form.

We’ll continue to share news as news comes available to share.

If you want to be among the first to try BYOD on Ting there’s still time to fill out the BYOD survey and beta signup.

Ting: The best business mobile plan
(if we do say so ourselves)

Today we’re taking the wraps off the Ting for business pages to explain the benefits of Ting and mobile that makes sense for businesses big and small.

When we first launched Ting, we knew it would be an ideal service for businesses. When we started talking about redesigning the Ting account control panel, much of the discussion for how it should work focussed on plans with multiple devices under management. Going beyond just family use and thinking about what happens when accounts have 10, 20, even 100 devices sharing pooled usage. With the new control panel available to use now, we’re redoubling our efforts to demonstrate that Ting can be the perfect choice for business mobile. We explain in more depth in our Ting for business pages.

In addition to the Ting for business pages, we also created a total cost of ownership (TCO) calculator spreadsheet that lays out just how much money a business could save by moving to Ting for mobile service. After all, if there’s one thing businesses love it’s a good spreadsheet… to say nothing of a killer ROI. This TCO Worksheet lets would-be business switchers run all the numbers, including having multiple partners or employees each with their own device, and expensing their own monthly wireless bills. The TCO worksheet factors Ting device purchases in to the equation to demonstrate that purchasing outright as opposed to getting deep discounted subsidized devices and back-loaded contracts is the better way to go.

Ting for business video

A perfect business mobile plan

Aside from an online account control panel that scales effortlessly whether you have one or 100 devices on a Ting account, many of the benefits families are already realizing from Ting also scale nicely to businesses: Shared usage between an unlimited number of devices, granular device-level control, incredibly reasonable rates for minutes, messages and megabytes of data. No limits and no wasteful bundles or unlimited plans. No overages or penalties. Rates that get better the more you use. You’ve probably heard the spiel.

Forward-thinking businesses are already experiencing Ting’s benefits. For them, the new control panel is a natural evolution and the business-specific points we make on the Ting for business pages are already being realized each month.

Business users still pick from the same buckets of minutes, messages and megabytes. We’re not changing the Ting model. Rather, we’re laying clear specifically how the Ting model makes fiscal sense for businesses.