Updates on Ting’s Plans

In July, Ting announced plans to cease offering service over T-Mobile’s network and begin offering service over Verizon’s network. Initially, it looked like Verizon service would become available in late 2019. Ting also appeared to have plans to move all of its existing customers on T-Mobile’s network to new networks by the end of 2020.

Recently, Ting’s plans have changed. Here’s an excerpt from Tucows’ (Ting’s parent company) last post-quarter Q&A session (emphasis mine):

As a reminder, we announced in July that we had signed a new agreement with Verizon and terminated our agreement with T-Mobile. At that time, we detailed an eighteen-month phase-out period ending December 2020, during which time we could support existing subscribers on T-Mobile, but, starting December 19th of this year, not add new ones. We also warned there would be significant expense and risk involved in migrating about 160,000 subscribers away from T-Mobile by the end of that phase out period.

I am pleased to report that we have reached a subsequent agreement with T-Mobile and a mobile virtual network enabler (or MVNE), named Prepaid Wireless Group (PWG), that essentially eliminates that expense and risk. Prepaid Wireless Group will now be considered our direct provider of T-Mobile network access. The new deal accomplishes a few important things: It extends our ability to support customers on the T-Mobile network for another three years starting this December, with an option to extend further. It allows us to continue to activate subscribers on the T-Mobile network if we choose. And it maintains our current T-Mobile wholesale rates and gives us very reasonable annual revenue guarantees.

With this deal, we no longer have any urgency to migrate these subscribers away from T-Mobile, and no reason to incur expensive incentives going forward to do so. We will now add Verizon with much less rush. We will think about what is best for both our incoming and existing subscribers, and our business across all three of our networks; Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile. With very achievable guarantees across all three in the coming years, we also put ourselves in a position to see the outcome of the still unresolved Sprint/T-Mobile situation and be able to watch the landscape evolve.

While Ting will now have the option to add new subscribers to T-Mobile’s network, I expect Ting will generally steer new customers away from T-Mobile. Ting has previously suggested that the rates it pays for access to T-Mobile’s network are not as competitive as the rates it pays for access to Verizon’s superior network.

Mitch from Ting left a comment on Reddit with a bit more information:

We’ve recently come to a new agreement that should allow us to continue to offer Ting GSM service with no interruption for existing Ting GSM users for many years to come. It’s true that this does clash with some of the messaging we’ve had of late, but our strategy of moving as many otherwise-eligible people off of Ting GSM and onto Ting CDMA as possible has not changed.

I’m still excited for Ting to launch its Verizon-based service, but I don’t know if we’ll see that service become available before the end of 2019.

Hat tip to Reddit user robchaos for drawing attention to the information in Ting’s recent Q&A session.

Added after publication: Ting began offering service over Verizon’s network in February 2020.

Tutela’s October 2019 MVNO Report

In October, the network evaluator Tutela released its USA State of MVNOs report. Most network evaluators only assess the performance of the Big Four carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon), so it’s interesting to see Tutela assessing a wider range of carriers.

Near the beginning of the report, Tutela shares some reflections on how the MVNO landscape is changing:1

MVNOs and MNO flanker brands in the US carved out a niche largely serving the needs of lower-income customers or those with particular data needs…in 2019, the landscape is rapidly shifting. Technological advancements have made the barrier for operating some kind of network much lower; the entrance of cable companies into the market have pushed MVNO service into the more lucrative postpaid segment; and multi-network MVNOs are innovating on the network side of the equation, rather than solely differentiating on price or customer service.


The approach Tutela used to evaluate MVNOs was in line with its usual methodology. The company crowdsourced performance data from typical consumers with the help of code embedded in Tutela’s partners’ apps. In the new report, Tutela primarily considers how well MVNOs performed in regions where at least three of the big four networks offer coverage. Tutela calls these core coverage areas.2

Within core coverage areas, Tutela calculates the amount of time subscribers have service that exceeds two different quality thresholds. When service exceeds the “excellent” threshold, subscribers should be able to do highly demanding things like streaming high-definition video or downloading large files quickly. When service exceeds the “core” threshold, subscribers should be able to carry out typical activities like browsing or streaming music without trouble, but performance issues may be encountered with demanding activities.


Here’s Tutela’s visualization of the main results:3

Tutela results

A chart of median download speeds shows a similar ranking among carriers:

Tutela Download Speeds

The results aren’t too surprising. Verizon MVNOs come out near the top of the hierarchy, while Sprint MVNOs tend to come out near the bottom. Cricket Wireless has a good score for the core threshold but does poorly in terms of the excellent threshold. That outcome makes sense since Cricket throttles maximum speeds.

Possible selection bias

I often write about how assessments of network performance that use crowdsourced data may be vulnerable to selection bias. These results from Tutela are no exception. In particular, I wonder if the results are skewed based on how high-quality phones used with different carriers tend to be. In general, newer or more expensive phones have better network hardware than older or cheaper phones.

Xfinity Mobile takes the top spot in the rankings. Xfinity Mobile is a new-ish carrier and is restrictive about which phones are eligible for use with the service. I would guess the average phone used with Xfinity Mobile is a whole lot newer and more valuable than the average phone used with TracFone. Similar arguments could be made for why Spectrum or Google Fi may have an advantage.

To Tutela’s credit, the company acknowledges the possibility of selection bias in at least one case:4

The second factor explaining Google Fi’s performance compared to Metro or Boost is the device breakdown. Although a broad range of Android and iOS devices work with Google Fi’s service, the network is targeted most heavily at owners of Google’s own Pixel devices…The Pixel devices use top-of-the-line cellular modems, which intrinsically provide a better cellular experience than older or mid-range devices.

Wi-Fi results

Several MVNOs offer access to Wi-Fi hotspots in addition to cellular networks. I’ve been curious how much data carriers send over Wi-Fi, and Tutela’s results give an estimate. While Xfinity Mobile appears to have sent the largest share of its data via hotspots, it’s a smaller share than I expected:5

Tutela data suggests that Xfinity Mobile has already succeeded in offloading over 6% of smartphone data traffic onto its Wi-Fi network – far more than any other network.

Tutela also shares a graph comparing hotspot usage among different carriers:6

Graph of wi-fi usage share among multiple carriers

Other stuff

There were a few other bits of the report that I found especially interesting. In one section, the report’s authors reflect on the fast growth of MVNOs run by cable companies:7

Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile captured nearly 50% of the postpaid subscriber growth in Q2 2019, and combined added nearly as many postpaid subscribers as host network Verizon.

In another part of the report, Tutela shares a map displaying the most common host network that Google Fi subscribers access. It looks like there are a decent number of areas where Sprint or U.S. Cellular provide the primary host network:8

AT&T Paying $60,000,000 For “Unlimited Data” Claims

AT&T has settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and agreed to pay out $60 million to current and past customers that may have been affected by misleading claims about unlimited data. The settlement is in response to the FTC’s 2014 accustation that AT&T failed to adequately disclose that customers on unlimited data plans could have their speeds throttled substantially. Here are a few bits from the 2014 FTC complaint:

The FTC’s complaint alleges that the company failed to adequately disclose to its customers on unlimited data plans that, if they reach a certain amount of data use in a given billing cycle, AT&T reduces – or “throttles” – their data speeds to the point that many common mobile phone applications – like web browsing, GPS navigation and watching streaming video – become difficult or nearly impossible to use…AT&T’s marketing materials emphasized the ‘unlimited’ amount of data that would be available to consumers who signed up for its unlimited plans…AT&T, despite its unequivocal promises of unlimited data, began throttling data speeds in 2011 for its unlimited data plan customers after they used as little as 2 gigabytes of data in a billing period. According to the complaint, the throttling program has been severe, often resulting in speed reductions of 80 to 90 percent for affected users. Thus far, according to the FTC, AT&T has throttled at least 3.5 million unique customers a total of more than 25 million times…consumers in AT&T focus groups strongly objected to the idea of a throttling program and felt ‘unlimited should mean unlimited.’

Here’s an excerpt from the FTC’s press release from today (emphasis mine):

As part of the settlement, AT&T is prohibited from making any representation about the speed or amount of its mobile data, including that it is “unlimited,” without disclosing any material restrictions on the speed or amount of data. The disclosures need to be prominent, not buried in fine print or hidden behind hyperlinks. For example, if an AT&T website advertises a data plan as unlimited, but AT&T may slow speeds after consumers reach a certain data cap, AT&T must prominently and clearly disclose those restrictions.

I’m glad to see the FTC cracking down on misleading practices. Bogus “unlimited” plans seem to be much more common today than they were in 2014.