Cheap Cell Phone Plans

Lowering the Monthly Nut: Cell Phone Edition

Cheap Cell Phone Plans

Earlier this year, I posted about how H and I were beginning to think about getting new phones. Our phones were about 3 years and 3 months old at the time. Our phones are pretty old at this point, and I even wrote way back in 2010 about breathing a bit of new life into our android phones by doing a manual upgrade of the phones operating system. This has sustained our phones since then, and we are operating under a monthly contract that still has unlimited data (which is awesome) but we are still paying quite a bit more than I’d like for cell phones – about 150/mo.

During the course of trying to lower our monthly nut, I zeroed in on the phone pretty quickly. The industry is changing rapidly, and there are quite a few different options out there now – if you’re willing to look outside the big 4. The first one that I heard of was republic wireless, which I talked about in the last article. I hesitated on pulling the trigger because I was looking for a bit more information on how the phone used networks and made calls in certain situations where you were out of network, and I tweeted republic wireless and they told me that if the cell network they used (sprint) was unavailable for me, they would place the call over the verizon network – just like what happens with all of sprints regular users.

The primary reason that H and I didnt pull the trigger was two fold. The first is that I heard that republic was going to be releasing new phones in the “summer of 2013” and they would have more than just 1 phone – a “good”, “better” or “best” option would be available. The second was that we were spending a lot of cash elsewhere, as you can read here or here. We held off – and in a move that will not stun my wife at all, we have still not done anything. Most of this honestly has been waiting for when republic will deem it “summer” and release the new phones. This hasnt happened yet, but give that it’s approaching almost winter here in wyoming (I think it’s called “fall” other places) I’m getting kind of impatient.

Not long ago, I ran the numbers on how much we would have saved had H and I switched to republic wireless around the time that I wrote that article (early april). We would be 4 billing cycles with them, and here’s how the costs break down.

 Verizon (Current)Republic Wireless
(Cheaper Phone Option)
Republic Wireless
(Cheaper per Month Option)
Phone Cost$0$158$500
Monthly Cost (2 people, 4 Months)$600$232$320
Total Cost$600$390$820

Clearly, the plan with the cheap phone is the winner, but obviously will get more expensive in the long term, and by the time 17 months passes, the cheap phone will start to become more expensive than then cheap monthly plan option from republic wireless. In 2 months, verizon will be the highest cost out of all the plans, and the disparity will continue to get worse over time.

Not only is republic trying to shake up the mobile phone industry, but so is another competitor called ting. Ting runs off of sprints network all the time (unlike republics, which runs off of sprint when you’re not connected to a wireless network), and if you’re out of area for sprint (which I will be a lot because sprint doesnt have good coverage here) you go onto verizons network (just like republic). However, with ting, you can choose your own plan and pick and pay for what you need, and not pay for things that you dont plan on using.

Updated: 11/14/2013: Republic has finally released their new phone, the motoX. It’s what I was waiting for when I wrote this article, and I’d like to let you know that I’m switching to them. Ting looked like a great service, but I decided in the end that I’d rather keep unlimited everything.

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I guess that ting starts you off in the smallest “box” of each of its service categories (voice, data, txt) for the first month, then at the end of the month, it moves you to where you ended up following your normal behavior. This is fine and dandy, but I really wanted an idea of where H and I would end up if we used ting for our service provider. I took the last few months of data from verizon (April, May, June & July) and got all of my numbers as to how much we were using during those periods. I picked 4 months because those seemed to be a pretty normal set of months, with nothing big or small that we would have used more or less data/voice/texts than we normally would.  Below is what I’d estimate we’d use on a monthly basis.

Ting Wireless Review

This would put us at 71 per month, which is less than half (!!!) of what we pay to verizon every month. It’s also more than we would be paying if we went with either option from republic wireless.

The “Catch”

I wondered what the catch was when I found out about all of this stuff too. How could they be literally be charging a lot less for the same service that you’d be getting from one of the major 4 carriers. With both republic and ting you have to pay for the whole phone – not the subsidized price that you’re usually offered by one of the major carriers. The cost of the phone for republics service is either $199 or $79, and with ting, it would depend on the phone you get (but you get a lot more phone selection from ting). With ting, you’ll be paying a lot more than republic (for now), but you also have the option to buy a used phone (Or bring one of your own sprint phones).

These are some pretty good options, and I know that H and I will end up going with one of these two – we just are not sure which yet, and really are waiting on republic wireless to release their new phones. As soon republic does that, we will make a decision and I’ll let you know what we ended up doing. We are giving republic the benefit of the doubt at this point, because they are about 30/mo cheaper than ting would be for us, but every time I pay verizon I’m starting to get annoyed, so the leash has been shortened a bit on republic.

Readers: Do any of you have republic or ting? What do you like/dislike about them, and how has the service worked for you?

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21 thoughts on “Lowering the Monthly Nut: Cell Phone Edition

  1. I have both Ting and Republic Wireless. Ting works like you would expect any cell phone to work, except that they do not offer data roaming. If you’re off Sprints data network, you won’t be able to surf or get e-mail over cellular data (you can certainly use Wi-Fi, though). Republic Wireless does currently include data roaming, and they are fairly unique in the MVNO space with this offering. Republic, of course, wants to direct you to Wi-Fi whenever it can, and this is where the service gets a little wonky sometimes. Wi-Fi to cellular, and cellular to Wi-Fi handoffs do not currently work mid-call (a promised fix is apparently in the works). There is also the variability of Wi-Fi quality from hotspot to hotspot. Republic also doesn’t currently offer MMS capability.

    I’ve been a Republic customer since they began, and a Ting customer for about 6 months. The winner for me thus far…Ting. It just works like you would expect a cell phone to work. If I want to keep my bill a little lower on Ting, I can use as much Wi-Fi as possible for data (and also for calling if I want to use Google Voice and GrooVeIP).

    • Chuck,
      Thanks for the comment and the heads up about the data with ting. It may not make a difference to you, but where I live there’s not much sprint coverage. I’d be roaming a fair amount of time, and dont really want to not have data access during that time.
      I will have to figure out a solution for the MMS thing, as my wife and I do use those fairly frequently. I’ve seen a few apps that may suit our needs, so I’ll look into that with republic/ting.
      Unfortunately, I’m still just waiting on republic to release their new phones so that we can make a decision.

      • You have very little Sprint coverage in the entire state other than Jackson and Cheyenne and you say you do not live in an area with Sprint coverage, so I seriously doubt you would be happy with any Sprint based service. I doubt any Sprint based service is going to let you roam a majority of the time, at least long term. In my experience if you are on the edge of cell service you will not roam until you are completely out of range of the Sprint tower and that is not ideal service. I don’t think Ting would even recommend their service for you, have you talked to them about it?

        • Chris-
          Thanks for pointing this out, and it didnt go unnoticed, which has been a great reservation of mine regarding the switch, and I’ve even written about it before. I have not yet called ting and talked with them about my geographics, but I do plan on doing that because I dont think I’d be that profitable of a customer because I’d be roaming fairly frequently.
          With republic though, I’d be on wireless networks the majority of the time making calls, so as a percentage of my usage, I wouldnt be roaming nearly as much.

  2. I switched to Ting as my provider, and couldn’t be happier. I was with Virgin Mobile for a couple years, after leaving AT&T because I felt, frankly, ripped-off. Virgin was OK, but the lack of voice/text roaming began to be a problem when I started traveling more for work. Also, I wanted to have the option of using the latest technology — Granted, I had to pay a good chunk upfront for my HTC One, but most MVNO providers don’t even give you the choice. There are also plenty of less expensive options, including going on Amazon or Ebay and buying a used Sprint phone with a clean ESN.

    Ting has been excellent for me, in every way. Have a problem? They answer on the second ring, with a real human being who knows how to solve problems. Want to know what’s up with your usage? Check the app on your phone, and there it is, all laid-out for you. Want to use your phone as a wi-fi hotspot for your laptop? Want to tether it? Go ahead, there’s no extra charge.

    Are there caveats? Sure. If you need roaming data, outside the Sprint network, they may not be for you… although I always seem to find wifi when I need it. Are you a very heavy data user? You might be better off with an unlimited plan, although with the current business model of throttling after a certain amount of use, unlimited plans keep getting more and more…well… limited.

    Keeping all that in mind, if what Ting offers will work for you, I can’t recommend them highly enough. I’ve never had customer service/response like I get from them from another phone company. Or most companies in general, for that matter.

  3. I switched to ting early in 2013 and have never been happier. I was a sprint customer for 3 years prior to that with feature phones (no data) and my bill was still 110 a month for 2 phones. After switching to ting for my wife (out of her contract) and buying a Rise for $160 her bill was 30 a month (> 1000 min.). I came on board a little while later with a used transform ultra for $80 and our bill was still under $50 (still under 1000 min.) I had 3 old slider phones that we recently added for the daughters (no data for them on old slider phones, strict instructions to text all they want but limit their minutes.) All 5 phones are now less than $70 a month. We do use very little data, living in the sticks, it sucks anyway, and a lot of wifi at home. I did get a refurb airave and it helped alot at home.

  4. I’m on Ting. Had to get a new phone so I made the switch to Ting at that time. I paid a ton to cancel my T-Mobile contract early, but made up the difference in just a few months. It’s nice to get a reasonable bill and know it’ll be adjusted up or down based on what I actually use and that there’s no contract attached. Also – I love that when you call customer service. The phone rings once or twice and someone ACTUALLY PICKS UP THE PHONE and says “Hey, this is Ting! What’s up?” So refreshing.

  5. I moved from Sprint to Ting back in February and I couldn’t be happier. My monthly cost for 750 daytime minutes, unlimited evenings & weekends, unlimited data, unlimited text, and unlimited calling to any US mobile number was $85 including taxes and fees.

    I originally estimated I would spend $34/month with Ting. I’m actually spending < $20 most months. I paid a $65 early termination fee with Sprint (they put unlisted fees onto that even!!), but I basically made up for that the first month. I've been super happy with Ting. My savings have been because I am more conscious of using data since it's not "unlimited" and instead costs at least $3 and I picked up a VOIP line for the calls I make at home.

  6. If the provider doesn’t provide you with the service you need, then price isn’t that much of a factor. So if you need data roaming, your options are limited but you’d be unhappy if you went with a plan that didn’t have it. For me, data roaming is something that will inconvience me once in a while, a trade off I’m willing to take. I switched to Ting from Sprint, and even paying a $220 ETF and buying the wife a new Galaxy S4 at retail, I’ll be saving money by about month 9. My bill is going down from over $220 to less than $100 for 3 people. I looked at it this way. If we all get new phones every year, I’ll spend about what I’m paying Sprint with upgrades every two years. If we keep to a two year cycle, I’ll still save money after paying retail for the new phones (not counting any resale value of the old ones)

  7. Ex-Verizon customer here (my wife’s iPhone 4). I considered Republic. Got on their wait list, which was forever. When I finally got called up by Republic I had learned about Ting. Dipped my toe into Ting by getting a feature phone for my teenage daughter, which cost $52. She almost never uses it. Costs me $6 a month to have the phone and bupkes for usage. It’s worth it to us.

    I dived into Ting about 10 months ago by buying a Samsung S2. Works for me. I’m around accessible wifi about 98% of the time, so I use almost no data. Plus you can configure your data usage so that your apps only update via wifi. I use a couple hundred minutes a month. Maybe 100 texts. Maybe 15MB of data.

    My wife got off her Verizon contract about 6 months ago. She got a Samsung Galaxy Victory. She deals with it. She loved the iPhone and the Verizon 3G, but we paid through the nose. It was around $90 a month. And her usage at Verizon wasn’t anything special: maybe 400 minutes a month, a few hundred texts, and 100mb of data. She’s kept the same habits after switching to Ting.

    After all three phones were on Ting, and after configuring our data so that we updated via wifi, our monthly bill has averaged about $50. Yes, that’s right, $50 total for one feature phone and two smart phones. That’s everything. The $6 per month per activated phone, plus usage.

    But depending on where you are, where you go, and what you do, the downside is the Sprint network. Where I am (Iowa City) the Sprint 3G is terrible. Rotten. My wife hates it and I occasionally suffer with it, but to me it’s not a deal breaker considering the savings and like I said I’m around accessible wifi 98% of the time. I’ve read on various message boards that Sprint 4G could be available locally in the next 4 to 6 months. So we’ll see.

    If we had stayed with Verizon and my wife re-upped her contract to an iPhone 5, and if I had gotten a smartphone through them, and also got a feature phone for my daughter, we’d probably be spending around $170 a month.

    Ting’s customer service is excellent. I’ve had to use them a few times on minor issues. They are personable, human, in the USA, they get back to you, and they follow up later (!). They also don’t try to upsell you anything. I’m happy with Ting. Good luck.

  8. I’ve been with Ting for about 8 months now, perhaps a tad longer. I joined up from Verizon, picking up my first smartphone when I did, a used Galaxy SII from a member of the Ting forum for $250. I was with them about two months, testing and seeing how well it worked, then I brought my mother and father into the plan from Verizon. For the three of us running plain old flip-phones on Verizon we were sitting right at $100 per month. Now with the three of us running smartphones on Ting, we’re at about $40-$50 depending on how much we use in an individual month.

    My parents are both running old LG Marquees, which are really kind of crap phones, but still worlds better than their old flip-phones, and we picked them up on a special for $60 per phone.

    Overall, the only downside I can find to Ting is that they’re Sprint network, which means much more limited coverage than Verizon, and slower data rates. The other side of that, of course, is that they have text-and-voice share on the Verizon network as well, so you’re only out data when you’re not in Sprint coverage, which I don’t use that much of anyway.

    Honestly, I couldn’t be happier with them, I have no plans to do anything else for a long time, aside from eventually upgrade my SII to an S3 or S4.

  9. I switched to ting, and the savings far outweigh the phone cost for me. I had two sprint phones, and bought another off craigslist. Three phones on sprint was costing me over 200 a month. On Ting, it’s running around 40. I will note that reviewing my sprint bill I realized i used little to none of my “unlimited” data. Since switching, I have become a solely WiFi user, and it hasn’t been noticeable to me, but I have WiFi everywhere I go. Regardless, even if I start using some data, my bill isn’t going to get anywhere near 220 dollars again, so I’m extremely happy with Ting, and recommend it everyone.

  10. I also wrote a review of Ting on my blog! I switched from Verizon and am saving about $75 each month. I was bummed that I couldn’t bring my Droid, or that the iPhone wasn’t an option, so we got the crappiest/cheapest cell phone they had. It works for us, for now, but am waiting on the day that the Droid will be accepted! I do love Ting, though, and I FINALLY feel like I am getting a great deal (not used and abused) on cell service. THANKS, TING! If only I could switch my cable/Internet from Comcast and feel better about that service…. Ugh.

  11. I’m in my first month with Ting now. Based on my current and past usage I’m looking at $60 / month vs my sprint plan at $80. I took my active sprint phone and transferred before I went to bed, woke up the next morning to an email with instructions on how to reprogram, I did that before I hit the road from work and am operating just like I was the day before. Sprint has been rolling out the lte near my place of work and home and I’ve been picking those up like I would anywhere else. I’m a happy camper thus far and I get to support NOT the major carriers and kind of support sprint as the third ponny.

  12. One caveat with Republic that no one has mentioned is that they will only activate new phones purchased directly from them. You cannot buy a used Republic phone on ebay or craigslist and have it activated. Or, if you damage your phone you have to purchase a new device and you are out the entire purchase price. In that case, the savings evaporate quickly.
    Add us to the list of satisfied Ting customers. We switch about a year ago and went from $110/month on Tmobile (3 phones, only 1 had data plan) to about $50-60/month on Ting. We have 2 Samsung Galaxy S, 1 Samsung Moment (total cost less than $200), and 2 other lower end android devices that we use as spares.

  13. Once my contract with Sprint ended in May, it was a simple process to port my Samsung Galaxy (and old phone number) over to Ting. The cost benefit was immediate for me especially considering I didn’t have to buy a new phone! Ting is working on adding new phones to their service all the time; I believe they are currently working to begin supporting the iPhone. My phone bill went from $110 at Sprint to $23-$33/month. Ting is perfect for me because I rarely used up my voice minutes with Sprint and hated to see those minutes “disappear” forever. So far, Ting really makes sense. You pay for what you use. What a concept, right?

    Worth noting: Ting bills exclusively via automatic debit from a credit or debit card on the same day each month. Those on very strict budgets should allow for that because there is no wiggle room.

  14. My wife, son, and I ran $110/mo for vzw for 3 cheap dumbphones with NO DATA and all-you-can eat sms/700mins talk. If we’d wanted smartphones, monthly would have more than doubled. Last year around “upgrade” time VZW started shrinking their dumbphone selection down to 3 or 4 crappy bricks. Started looking around and found three entry-level (ok, very basic) smartphone/sliders for $200 each. Our first monthly from ting–WITH DATA–was $30(!) It’s since leveled out to just over $50–for all three of us, data included–and the cost of the phones was recouped before our first year was up.

    ONE CAVEAT– We spent 1o days in Puerto Vallarta end of July–NO COVERAGE WHATSOEVER. Ting still hasn’t adjusted their Mexico coverage claims, so I would line up alternatives in advance of an international trip if I were you.

    I heartily recommend Ting, especially if you’re not a data vacuum. We are still with them and still happy, apart from their Mexican coverage snafu.

  15. My hubby and I signed up for Ting a couple of months ago and we’re happy with the service. You have to do your own calculations about whether this works for your usage patterns, but we think in less than a year we will recoup the cost of the phones; our monthly bill is half what we used to pay and we weren’t even on a data plan with our old carrier. Now we have a data plan AND smart phones. whoo hoo! One thing I really like about Ting is their customer service. They are very responsive and great with follow up.

  16. One of the catches, as you found out, was paying full cost for a phone. But when you compare phone service from each provider including hardware costs over a year or two, you should still come out much cheaper on Ting.

    The second catch is the cost of data. If you are a heavy data user, you are going to pay.

    The beauty of the Ting plans is that you only pay for what you use. Wife & I are on schedule to complete our heaviest month of usage with Ting. Data usage finally popped over 100mb/month (combined), SMS has never gone over the 1000/month level, and minutes are halfway into the large bucket (750/1000). So we will go from our “average” $46/month bill to $55 this next month.

    What you have to decide is whether all the data offered by the big providers is worth the hassle and cost of the two year contract.

    We decided it wasn’t, and couldn’t be happier 🙂

  17. Ting is my favorite thing. I used to have unlimited Sprint, & even had a work discount for it. My bill ran just a little over $60. I’m fortunate to have wi-fi for most of my usage. I’ve had a couple months where my bill was less than $12. Seriously. The only time it’s been over $25 is when I’ve traveled. And it’s never even approached $50. I use Google Voice, update only over wi-fi, etc. But really, I don’t care what kind of phone I have to pay retail for….you can’t beat Ting.

    And yes, they do answer the phone & actually help you. That being said, I’ve only had to call them twice with questions. And I’ve been with Ting since pretty early in their existence.

    I recommended them to a friend of mine. A few months later he called me specifically to tell me that his wife said to tell me that she’s in love with me based solely on my referral of Ting. I hope Ting never changes. They’re amazing.

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