Ting’s New Verizon Service: Initial Impressions

Last week, the mobile virtual network operator Ting launched a new service running over Verizon’s network. The day it launched, I went to Ting’s website to order a SIM card and begin trialing the service.

Ordering process

Initially, I ran into a bug during Ting’s checkout process that prevented me from finishing an order. I think this was a launch-day issue with Ting’s website. A few hours later, the bug seemed to be fixed, and I ordered a SIM card. I paid about $5 for the SIM, shipping, and taxes:

Ting receipt showing about $5 in total charges

Activation process

Two days after placing my order, a SIM card arrived at my door. I popped it into a Moto G7 Play and went to Ting’s website to activate service. Activation wasn’t difficult, but it felt a bit clunky. Some of the information I had to provide when ordering the SIM card needed to be re-entered during the activation stage.

Once I’d finished the process on Ting’s website, I restarted my phone. The service worked immediately.

Service quality

Coverage has been great, as I expected from Verizon’s network. I’ve run speed tests under a variety of signal strengths, and the speeds have mostly been solid:

Several speed test results from Ting's Verizon service showing decent speeds

As expected, I didn’t notice any throttling of regular data speeds. However, it looks like most video traffic is throttled to a maximum of about 4Mbps:[1]

Test results suggestive of video throttling

Possible low prioritization

I’m suspicious that Ting has low priority on Verizon’s network (despite some suggestions to the contrary).

Using the app Network Signal Guru, I found my data traffic to generally be associated with a QCI value of 9. I expect a QCI of 9 on Verizon’s network is indicative of low priority.

Network Signal Guru test result hsowing a QCI of 9 for Ting's Verizon service.

I also found low speeds in the downtown area of Boulder, Colorado despite having a strong signal:

Speed test result from Downtown Boulder, CO showed a speed of 0.1Mbps

The most plausible explanation I can come up with for the lousy speeds is a combination of congestion and low priority.[2]

In most situations, low-priority service won’t cause subscribers much trouble. My best guess is that Ting users have the same priority level as Verizon’s prepaid customers, most Xfinity Mobile customers, and customers on Verizon’s cheapest post-paid unlimited plan.[3] I reached out to Ting to see if the company could provide any additional information about prioritization. At the time of writing, I have not heard back.

Tentative view

So far, I’m a big fan of Ting’s new service: Ting offers way better coverage than it used to, Ting didn’t raise its prices, and the company continues to offer awesome customer support.

Downsides

Despite my generally positive view, I have a few quibbles about Ting’s new service:

  • I don’t think Ting adequately discloses video throttling. I don’t remember any notifications about it during the ordering process. That said, I don’t think the video throttling is a big deal. It may actually help subscribers keep their data charges low.
  • Ting’s coverage page states: “By piggybacking on America’s largest network, Ting makes sure you’re covered from coast-to-coast. Period.” This implies that subscribers will be covered by Verizon’s network. It would be more transparent for Ting to indicate that most, but not all, subscribers can access Verizon’s network. Further, Ting said this on its coverage page for a little while before the service over Verizon’s network even launched.
  • Ting doesn’t allow subscribers to choose a network directly. Instead, potential subscribers provide information about their devices and where they live and are then matched with a network. I understand why Ting uses this approach for most website visitors. Many people would end up confused and choose networks poorly if they had to choose a network on their own. Still, I wish there was an option for knowledgeable users to explicitly sign up for Verizon’s network.[4]
  • Wi-Fi calling doesn’t seem to be supported at this time.

Ting Launches Service Over Verizon’s Network

Yesterday, the MVNO Ting released a video and a blog post announcing that the company will now offer service over a third network.

Hidden network partners

In the announcements, Ting acknowledges contractual obligations that prohibit the company from explicitly mentioning all of the networks the company offers service over:

Why not just say directly who our network service providers are? We’re not allowed. Pretty simple, really. We have contracts with each of our carrier partners…Detailed in those contracts is how, exactly, we’re allowed to refer to the specific networks we offer service on.

Due to the restrictions, Ting makes roundabout statements like: “Ting Mobile offers service on every network but AT&T.”

Fortunately, I’m not bound by the same contractual arrangements that restrict Ting. Before yesterday’s announcement, Ting offered service over T-Mobile and Sprint’s networks. As of yesterday, the company now offers service over Verizon’s network as well.

Better coverage with Verizon

Michael Goldstein, Ting’s Chief Revenue Officer, was surprisingly candid in the announcement video. He acknowledged that Ting hasn’t always been able to offer stellar coverage (emphasis mine):

For years, people have saved a ton of money on Ting. People have been thrilled with our customer experience and our customer support. But we have heard at times that people felt they were sacrificing a little something on coverage. With this addition and with this portfolio of networks we have, I think Ting Mobile pretty much gives people everything they need: the savings, the experience, and the coverage. All at once.

An improved value proposition

Despite the fact that Verizon’s network offers the best coverage in the nation, Ting didn’t change its pricing structure. Ting’s now has some of the best options on the market for families that don’t use a lot of data. That said, Ting’s options for heavy data users and single-line plans aren’t as enticing.

Discovering your Ting network

I’m really optimistic about Ting’s new service, and I’ve gone ahead and ordered a SIM card to trial it. I plan to update my review of the carrier as soon as I get a chance.

To keep things simple and stay in accordance with the contractual obligations discussed earlier, Ting doesn’t explicitly tell each subscriber the network he or she is being placed on. Instead, potential customers enter their addresses and their devices’ IMEI numbers, and Ting’s automated system places appropriate SIM cards in customers’ carts. In most cases, I expect new Ting customers will be placed on Verizon’s network, but there will be exceptions. Customers with certain kinds of devices and customers living in certain regions may still be matched with Sprint or T-Mobile’s networks.

To verify that you’re being matched with Verizon’s network, take a look at the type of SIM card that ends up in your cart during the checkout process. Verizon SIM cards will be marked as V1:

Ting V1 Verizon SIM card checkout screenshot

MVNOs Hiding Their Host Operators

Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) often appear to be prohibited (or at least discouraged) from explicitly acknowledging which networks they run over. Still, it seems that most MVNOs don’t have to keep their host networks entirely secret. The effects of these policies can be kind of funny.

Red Pocket

The MVNO Red Pocket operates over all of the major U.S. networks, but it only mentions Sprint by name. The following screenshot comes from a part of Red Pocket’s website that lists the networks the company offers service over:



The unnamed networks are color-coded to match the colors used in the host networks’ branding: AT&T in blue, T-Mobile in pink, and Verizon in red.

Ting

The MVNO Ting currently operates over Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks. Verizon will be added to the list soon. Today, Ting published a blog post about the upcoming addition. Ting still isn’t naming the networks it works with, but the company is making easy-to-interpret statements like: “In 2020, Ting will be on every major coast-to-coast network except AT&T.” The blog post included a video where the names of each network the company works with were censored out:

Reflections on Ting’s 20 for 20 Deal

The mobile virtual network operator Ting is offering new subscribers unlimited talk, unlimited texts, and 20GB of data for only $20 per month. Customers who take advantage of the deal will receive promotional pricing though the end of the year. Once 2020 starts, customers will have to pay Ting’s usual rates.

It’s unusual

Introductory offers are common in the wireless industry, but Ting’s 20 for 20 deal is unusual. Users aren’t locked into any service at regular rates. Customers are permitted to take advantage of the deal for several months and end service before 2020. When other companies offer deals with similar structures, I often assume gimmicks will be involved. Companies may not remind customers that rates will increase, or cancellation processes may be unnecessarily complicated. I think Ting is planning to run its promotion with integrity. Below is an excerpt from a Reddit comment by a Ting employee (emphasis mine):

When they’re onboard, they get to kick the tires of Ting CS and our website at a reduced rate. At some point in the future, the promo will expire (currently through 2019) and they’ll be set to go back to regular Ting rates after more than enough advance email notice.
Given my excellent past experience with Ting’s support, I’m inclined to believe the company will follow through and communicate clearly with customers.

Data rates

20GB is a lot of data. The amount is especially surprising when considering Ting’s regular data rate at the moment is $10 per GB (and sometimes higher). Someone on the 20 for 20 plan who used the full data allotment would have to pay over $200 per month for a single line of service with Ting’s regular rates. I can’t imagine many people who use data that heavily will be interested in sticking with Ting after the promotional pricing ends.

Ting is probably banking on the expectation that many subscribers that join during the promotion won’t use anywhere near 20GB of data. That of course begs the question of why Ting didn’t just run a similar promotion with a smaller allotment of monthly data. I’m not sure what Ting’s rationale is, but I’m betting that Ting believes customers who don’t use a lot of data may still be attracted by the 20GB data allotment. A similar phenomenon occurs in the web hosting industry. Lots of consumers want to purchase hosting from companies that allegedly offer unlimited resources even though most websites have modest hosting requirements.

Networks and price structures

Ting offers service on both T-Mobile and Sprint’s networks, but the 20 for 20 offer is only available on the Sprint network. The network restriction could be related to Ting’s plan to transition away from offering service on T-Mobile’s network and begin offering service on Verizon’s network. However, apart from the planned transition, I think the promotion would likely not be cost-effective if offered over T-Mobile’s network. I’ve previously seen hints suggesting Ting has far better rates negotiated with Sprint than T-Mobile. The structure of the 20 for 20 promotion seems to further support that impression.

If Ting does get far better rates with Sprint, it leaves me wondering why Ting doesn’t offer Sprint-based service at better rates than service over other networks. My best bet is that having only one pricing structure keeps things simple for Ting’s customers, but there are other plausible explanations. Maybe a commitment to a single pricing structure gives Ting leverage in negotiations with network operators. Who knows?

Image depicting the idea of "change."

Ting Plans to Drop T-Mobile and Add Verizon

Added 2/18/2020: Ting has found a way to continue offering service over T-Mobile’s network going forward. The parts of this post about Ting’s plans to migrate subscribers away from T-Mobile’s network are no longer accurate.

Yesterday, it was made public that the mobile virtual network operator Ting will soon cease offering service over T-Mobile’s network and begin offering service over Verizon’s network. It was also announced that Ting had extended its existing agreement with Sprint through September 2020.[1]

Dropping T-Mobile

Based on my understanding of yesterday’s SEC filing, I expect Ting will continue to offer service over T-Mobile’s network to existing subscriber until at least late 2019 and possibly late 2020.[2] I’m less sure whether new customers will be able to sign up for service over T-Mobile’s network for much longer.

Adding Verizon

The new arrangement with Verizon is based on a five-year agreement that Elliot Noss, CEO and president of Ting’s parent company spoke positively about:[3]

“With Verizon, we will be adding the network that in our opinion has the best coverage and performance ratings in the U.S. Our contract with Verizon is better than that with T-Mobile in terms of rates, guarantees and other financial terms, which had negatively impacted Ting Mobile’s past performance. Finally, our dealings with Verizon to this point have been productive and professional. ​​So long-term, we see this as very positive news.”

Going Forward

I’ve previously raved about Ting’s customer support, but I’ve been reluctant to strongly recommend Ting since its rates have been fairly high for access to mediocre networks (Sprint and T-Mobile). If Ting’s rates don’t increase as a result of moving to Verizon’s higher-quality network, I think the case for recommending Ting becomes a lot stronger.

Ting anticipates some friction migrating its T-Mobile subscribers to new networks:[4]

“We estimate the costs of migration, primarily in the form of SIMs, shipping and device marketing, to be in the range of $3 million this year, and as much as $12 million over the following years. These variable costs are mostly in the nature of the marketing costs needed to move customers from one network to the other, and will mostly be in the form of inducements, device subsidies and/or a form of service credit. There’s not a lot of precedent to provide guidance on which marketing programs will be most effective, and we are also unsure of how many, if any, of our customers will refuse or fail to move. This makes the total migration cost difficult to estimate. Taking on as much as $12 to $15 million in unplanned, one-time costs, over a few years, is a lot for us. That being said, this move is key to putting the mobile business back on a stronger long-term footing.

When Ting drops T-Mobile, it will no longer offer service over a GSM network. I expect the move from T-Mobile (and GSM) to Verizon makes more financial sense today that it would have a few years ago. As operators gradually replace their 3G networks with LTE networks, support for older GSM and CDMA technologies is becoming less important.


Added 2/26/2020: Ting officially launched service over Verizon’s network in February 2020.