Musings | Tech

Beating the High Cost of Phone Service

Photo by Tech Daily on Unsplash

When was the last time your cell phone carrier did something nice for you?

Not that I feel like I’m owed spontaneous acts of kindness just for being me (well, at least not much), but it seems like the only time I ever heard from AT&T was when they were messing with my subscription or changing my Terms of Service because their lawyers found a new loophole to exploit. I was paying over $205 per month for service on two phones, a smartwatch, and an automobile. And that was with a discount from being part of a national account. Seems like they could come up with something to make life better, yes?

Yeah, well… no. After all, this is the phone company we’re talking about. An ATM machine for stockholders that just happens to also sell communications services. The type of entity that can’t be bothered to be innovative unless it solely serves themselves. John Oliver can vouch for this. I’m certainly not opposed to a company making money; after all, that’s ultimately why it’s in business in the first place. But we all know that phone service competition doesn’t function like a normal competitive marketplace should, so sometimes an outside force is needed to disrupt the status quo.

How To Choose a New Carrier?

Cell phone carriers are in that category of service providers that we love to hate, and the hate is, in my opinion, well deserved. You don’t pick a carrier because you think it’s the best, you pick it because you think it sucks the least. At one point in time or another I have been a customer of all the legacy tier-1 carriers in the US, so I knew picking either Verizon or T-Mobile was just trading one set of problems for another. Luckily there’s another option: Mobile Network Virtual Operators.

MVNOs resell service from the big four three carriers at a significantly lower price. They buy network capacity in bulk and pass the savings on to their customers. I’ve known about them for several years but was skeptical about how they really compared with the tier-1 providers. How can they really cut the price so significantly? What’s the catch? What are the differences between them? Given the realities of working from home during the age of covid, I knew that my cell phone usage and dependence was less than normal, so I figured now was the time to take the plunge and find out.

So why Ting, specifically? They are a well-established MVNO that seems to have a good reputation. I’ve seen good reviews about them on Reddit and other typical online haunts, and I was reminded of them while watching Linus Tech Tips on the YouTube. The allure of replacing my overpriced AT&T wireless bill with a much smaller one was too great to pass up.

The Game Plan

Step one was to right-size the AT&T bill. This experiment is limited solely to my personal cell phone, as the wife will not tolerate such things.

Old PlanNew Plan
AT&T Mobile Share Advantage 20GB$155.20#1: AT&T Mobile Share Advantage 20GB$125.20
20GB pooled data, shared across four devices:
– my iPhone X
– the wife’s iPhone XR
– the wife’s Apple Watch
– my old Audi
20Gb pooled data for one device:
– the wife’s iPhone XR

(disconnected service for the watch and the old car)
Taxes and fees$50.37Taxes and fees (anticipated)$22.00
#2: Ting Set-5 Plan$25.00
5GB of data, including being an access point
Taxes and fees (anticipated)$11.00
TOTAL:$205.57TOTAL:$183.20
(Savings of $21.37)
Watch this space for oh-so-exciting financial updates to come!

If all goes well, I’ll move the wife’s phone to Ting as well. That should get our monthly bill down to around $72, a savings of almost $133/month!

/var/log/progress

I’m going to publish a step-by-stop log of the whole process and try to give as honest and objective of a report as I can manage. I know I’m not alone in this situation, so I hope that others can profit from my adventure.

  • Sun, June 6th, 2021 – Signed up on ting.com. After they qualified my device as being compatible and my AmEx as being chargeable, they arranged to ship me a SIM card for $1.10, which would arrive via FedEx in a few business days. (Picking up a SIM card at the local big box store was also an option. )
  • Wed, June 9th – FedEx drops off an envelope containing the Ting welcome kit. Inside is a SIM card, a SIM ejector tool, and the obligatory stickers.
  • 1:00pm – Six hours of work meetings finally let up, affording me some time to do the activation. The enclosed instructions are a bit vague on what to do, and I did myself no favors by trying to rush a few steps ahead. At one point my phone was stuck in the no-man’s land between being released by the legacy carrier but not yet picked up by the new one, requiring me to borrow the wife’s phone to call for help. Turns out the fault was partially mine: AT&T sends one last text message to confirm the port request is legit, and I didn’t wait for it before swapping the SIM cards. The reason I say ‘partially’ is because AT&T doesn’t really publish much in terms of instructions for porting away from them, only porting to them. So I had no way to know that a text was waiting for me. Ironically enough, the AT&T employee that handled my call was the nicest, easiest to understand, and genuinely helpful agent that I’ve encountered in years.
  • 1:30pm – After two experiences with Ting’s chat-based customer support, all is functional. I opted for chat-support over voice because sometimes it’s easier to use overall. It’s certainly easier when one is multitasking during work calls!

Known Pros and Cons

Known Downsides and Disadvantages:

  • International calling plans and service charges are expensive. This was a big factor for my household for years, as we traveled extensively around the world for both work and play. But covid and some job changing has reduced that need significantly, certainly down to the point that I’m willing to pay a bit more for the rare times that it’s actually needed in exchange for more affordable service as a whole.
  • No support for smartwatches. This is because they don’t yet have the ability to support eSIMs. I don’t know enough about these technologies to know why this is such a hold-up, but apparently it’s a big deal.

FAQs

Q: Why are MVNOs like Ting so cheap?
A: I’m still trying to find that out, but that might be the wrong way to look at it. Perhaps a better question is ‘why are the big cell carriers so expensive?’

Q: How’s the service?
A: It’s still way too early to make a judgement in this area, but my service around the house is just as good as it was before. I haven’t figured out if there’s a way to determine which carrier Ting is using at a given moment, but I suspect that because my iPhone X was an AT&T model that I’m now on T-Mobile’s network, as Ting does not resell AT&T service.

Present Status: too soon to know

Just getting started. Come back in a few weeks for updates, including a breakdown of my first bill.

Got questions? Maybe I got answers! Post ’em in the comments below and I’ll respond as needed.

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