Ting Mobile is one of the two cellular services I like and recommend. (The other is Google’s Project Fi.) The main benefits of Ting are the low cost and straight-forward pricing. There’s no local store for you to walk into and sign-up, so switching to Ting can take a little more effort on your part. Their customer support, via phone, online chat, or email is terrific, but it’s not face-to-face.
What Will You Pay?
Ting separates the cost of the phone from the service. You can buy or finance a phone through them, or you can bring any compatible phone that you already have. Technically, financing is through a third party, but you get it during the phone purchase process.
If you already know you want to bring your own phone then use Ting’s phone checker to see if they support your phone and if it’s eligible for Ting. If you can’t bring your phone and are dead-set against a new phone, then there’s no reason to continue.
Ting divides their plans into tiers for each service type. The services are Minutes, Text Messages, and Data, along with the phone line itself. Each device is $6 per month, and you can have multiple devices, each with their own phone number. It’s not strictly only pay for what you use but it is close. You don’t pick a plan, but at the end of the month, you pay for the tiers that you ended up using. You can pull out your current cellular bill and use Ting’s rate calculator to see what you would have paid with Ting. Some additional taxes and fees that aren’t shown in the calculator.
As an example, in February my total Ting bill was $23.32 which included:
- $6 for the device
- $9 for 204 minutes
- $3 for 13 text messages
- $3 for 14 megabytes of data
- $2.32 for taxes & fees, of which $0.94 was the sales tax.
I say this isn’t truly only pay for what you use because I could have used an additional 296 minutes, 87 text messages and 86 MB of data without increasing my bill. This is because I was already in the billing tier for the service. Still, I find the charges reasonable, especially when compared to my previous carriers.
While my February usage was lower than usual, my average bill since May 2017 is $25.98. There are months where I do need to use more data, so it’s nice not to have to pre-pay or pre-select my plan. Since billing is open-ended, you can set alerts to warn you when you reach a usage threshold that concerns you.
If you don’t use the phone at all, you pay only $6. You can deactivate a device which keeps it registered with Ting, but you are not charged for the line until you reactivate it (you can’t keep the phone number with an inactive device).
This is where Ting can get a little confusing. You can bring your own phone, although, with the wide variety of phones out there, not all can be supported. Ting also uses two different national networks, GSM and CDMA, and they may support different features on the same phone.
The simplest (at in least effort) solution is to buy a phone from Ting. Look through the Ting Store for available models. You don’t have to buy from them. Feel free to shop for the phone elsewhere and bring it to Ting. If you are shopping for a new phone, I recommend looking for a multi-network phone (GSM+CDMA). This will allow maximum flexibility now and in the future. I discuss the two network options in a later section.
If you are bringing your own phone, then use Ting’s phone checker to see if they support your phone and if it’s eligible for Ting. They’ll list which network is supported by the phone and any features that may not be available. If Ting says your phone is CDMA only, you may want to reconsider using Ting or that phone. I provide more details in the Which Network section below, but Ting’s CDMA network is provided by Sprint which is weak in many areas. Although, if you currently use and like Sprint, you can safely switch and pay less.
If you are bringing your own phone, it must be “unlocked.” If you are still paying for the phone, then it is most likely locked, and you will need to pay off the balance, and possibly meet other terms in your contract. If the phone is paid off and owned outright by you, then it can be unlocked. With some carriers, you may need still need to get the carrier to unlock the phone.
AT&T will unlock phones after they are paid for, but it is not automatic and must be requested. AT&T has instructions for submitting the unlock request here or go directly to the unlock form here. AT&T says it could take two days to process the unlock request.
Up until now, Verizon phones have been immediately unlocked, although they are changing this. Today, phones purchased from Verizon are unlocked when they are sold, so any Verizon phone you have is already unlocked. While the details aren’t announced, starting sometime in the spring of 2018 phones sold directly by Verizon will be locked for some time after it is sold. Verizon says this is to prevent fraudulent purchases, so the duration of the lock should be short.
Phones purchased directly from the phone manufacturer are typically unlocked if you paid the full price up front, even if you use it on Verizon or AT&T.
There are two main cellular technologies in the United States, and Ting supports both. Which should you pick?
The short answers:
- If the Ting phone checker tells you that your phone is tied to a specific network then that network is your only choice. You should still check that network’s coverage in your area.
- If you have Sprint and find the coverage good, but want to save money, then pick the CDMA network.
- If you have T-Mobile and find the coverage good, but want to save money, then select the GSM network.
- If you have T-Mobile but find the coverage and quality poor, then Ting may not be for you. You can look at the GSM option, it might be okay in your specific area, but it’s generally the weaker choice.
- If none of the above applies to you, then pick the GSM network. You should still explore the coverage in your specific area but start with GSM.
Here’s the detail on the above answers…
The two cellular technologies are GSM (Global System for Mobiles) and CDMA (Core Division Multiple Access). Your phone’s hardware must support the network to use it. While many phones can use either network, many more are tied to one technology.
CDMA is used by Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular. Phones from these carriers may be limited to CDMA. AT&T, T-Mobile and most of the world uses GSM. Phones from these carriers may be limited to GSM.
Ting gets its CDMA network from Sprint and its GSM network from T-Mobile. If you currently have Sprint or T-Mobile and have good coverage, you’ll want to stick with that same network. If you have lousy coverage, you’ll want to look at the other network. Ting does have coverage maps available.
The network provider is much more important than the underlying technology. Verizon was my previous carrier, and I got good service nearly everywhere I went. The Ting coverage map looked good for CDMA, so I tried that first, which was a mistake. Coverage was spotty in some areas I traveled to and consistently worse than my Verizon service. I then tried GSM and coverage was much better in the areas I typically traveled, and comparable to the service I was getting with Verizon. (This is one reason I recommend a multi-network phone when considering a new phone, I can use the phone with any network just by changing the SIM. I can also easily switch to another carrier if I grow to dislike Ting.)
While there are variations between locations, generally the T-Mobile GSM network is stronger than the Sprint CDMA network. Sprint is usually considered the weakest of the four U.S. cell networks (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint). In Connecticut, where I am, further research showed me that T-Mobile’s network was far stronger than Sprint’s across the state, and into neighboring states.
If you want a new phone, but have a working phone now, I would suggest trying your current phone on Ting to see what type of service you get. A SIM only costs $9 (plus shipping), and you can try a new phone number with one or both networks without affecting with your current phone plan or phone number. Don’t expect to reuse this SIM if you later decide to port your old phone number over to Ting; you may need a new SIM). This is what I did to find that the CDMA network wasn’t a good choice for me. You will need to be able to swap the SIM into and out of your phone, and only the SIM in your phone will be active.
Ting provides some excellent cost savings when compared to the major carriers. While there’s no official family plan, you can add multiple phones, tablets or computers, and all the data is pooled when calculating what you pay.
In the next installment I’ll cover porting your existing phone number to Ting.
If you found this guide helpful and want to try Ting, you can use this referral link to get us both some money. You’ll get $25 off a device or as a Ting Credit, and I’ll get a $25 Ting credit.