Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dirtbaggers Data Plan

Wow. It's been some time since I've published anything. Writing is something I enjoy but it gets left by the wayside when life is busy. A new house, a new business, spring cleaning, and warm weather for training have meant that I've neglected the blog.

Most people that have read past posts know I'm a tech nerd. I geek out on Android phones and tablets, and love to play around with website development. I'm not that good at it yet, but it's something I do enjoy.

Like most others, I love my smartphone. I have two well-loved Android phones, an old, retired HTC Evo 4G, and a newer Galaxy S3. Until recently I was a member of a Sprint family plan with 5 phones. My bill every month was approximately $55, which is not unreasonable for a plan with unlimited data. With unlimited data I used my phone everywhere. I streamed music in the car, used Google Maps all the time, and checked my email at any time. Despite the convenience, this reliance on my phone was annoying. It became a crutch at times. I didn't need unlimited data, and I wanted to be less attached to my phone. At the same time I still wanted to have a smartphone. They're indispensable for business as a climbing guide, and having one device that can email, navigate in the backcountry, make emergency calls and take great photos is pretty awesome.

As someone who's a tech nerd and a budget conscious climber, Ting caught my attention last year. Ting is a mobile service provider that uses the Sprint network. They've worked out an agreement with Sprint, and customers who have Sprint smartphones can transfer their service to Ting.

So what's so great about Ting you might ask? Ting's goal is to provide reasonably priced mobile phone plans, offer great customer service and be as transparent as possible at all times. I was immediately curious and also skeptical. Cell phone providers seem slimy. Like cable companies and airlines, cell phone providers feel like they're running a legal racket.

Choosing your plan is easy

For two months I tracked my minutes and data. After observing my usage for that amount of time I determined I could have a no contract plan with Ting for $23/month plus taxes and fees. I already have a Sprint Android phone, so I would be able to bring that phone with me to Ting, which would save me even more money. Over two years I would be saving approximately $500 and dealing with customer service that was both pleasant and spoke a form of English that I could understand.

Last December I canceled my Sprint service and switched to Ting. For the past six months I've been paying $32/month for service. I've had to deal with customer service three times over that period and each interaction has been unimaginably easy. In a world where customer service is generally horrible Ting has been a breath of fresh air.

The very easy to use Dashboard.
The very easy to use Dashboard


Over the course of 6 months I've been able to determine what's good and what's bad about my service with Ting. So, here's what's good:
  • Transparency - there are no hidden fees, no contracts, and no fine print with Ting. They are clear about their goal and very happy to have new customers.
  • Adjustable plans - You choose your minutes, texts and data. If you go over any of them during the month, they'll bill you at the next level for that month only. There are no contractual obligations and you'll never be billed for more than you use.
  • Customer Service - You will get someone on the phone at Ting after one ring. They speak English you can understand and they will walk you through anything you need help with. Email support is just as good, and most things get resolved in a single day.
  • Tethering - Sprint allowed unlimited data, but also stated in the contract that you can't tether your phone to other devices. Ting, on the other hand, feels that if you are paying for a set amount of data you should use it however you like. I've been able to turn my phone into an internet access point for my other devices (Nexus 7 and my laptop) while traveling.
  • The Dashboard - The user interface with Ting is easy to use. They've developed the dashboard for usability, so that you need to contact customer service as little as possible. You see how many minutes, texts and megabytes you've used each month. You can also set alerts (to turn off minutes or data if you don't want to pay extra) that will email or text you when you get near a specified limit. You can even turn off data to particular devices but not the entire account. Amazingly, you can also cancel your account with a single click from the dashboard. Yes, there is a button right in front of your face that allows you to terminate service. How many times have you wanted to cancel your services with a bank, phone company, or cable company and not done so because you don't want to make an awful, hour long phone call where you get tossed around?
Nothing seems like it's ever all good. Here's the bad:
  • Data Roaming - Ting does not have roaming agreements with Verizon or US Cellular or any other CDMA provider. You only have a data connection on Sprint's network. This means the roaming service is not as good in many parts of northern New England. In the southeastern US this doesn't seem to be a problem because Sprint has a larger presence. This means there is no data connection and you can only send phone calls and texts.
  • Phones - You have to buy a smartphone at nearly full price. There are no contracts, and therefore the phone is not subsidized. You'll have to pay the full cost. For a good smartphone that's about $450. However, if you are a heavy smartphone user you will likely still save money moving to Ting. If you're a lightweight user there's no doubt, you will save money.
One of the things I began doing last year, as I became a homeowner, was looking at the total cost of ownership. How much you'll spend over the life of a product or service paints a more accurate picture than what you'll pay from month to month. So, even if you have to pay for a full-priced smartphone you're still going to save money with Ting. Just do the calculations to see for yourself.

If, after hearing this, you're interested in Ting, head over to Ting.com and check them out. If you want to sign up, here's a referral code that will get you $25 credit ($25 credit for me too!) towards a new account: https://z96d2opoc1.ting.com/