Finding the best cell phone deal

We recently performed research and evaluation of cellular voice/data services, and discovered a new option that exists in the cellphone market. Cell phone service has been traditionally provided by only the big four — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.

All four service providers are known as “MNO” (mobile network operators) that own the cell phone towers and equipment. They also have comparably high rates, typically starting at a minimum of $69 per month or more when combining voice and data.

For a comprehensive list of US mobile providers, visit Wikipedia.com.

Due to market de-regulation, a new type of cell phone provider now exists, known as an “MVNO” — mobile virtual network operator. An MVNO leases access from an existing cellphone system, such as Sprint, and then resells the service at a lower price. We found www.Ting.com to be an excellent MVNO, providing very low cost service using the Sprint system with a wide range of Android handsets.

Ting.com requires purchase of a phone from their web-site. They have both basic phones and refurbished smart phones for under $100, along with a wide range of new smart phones at higher prices. Phones are sold only with the manufacturer warranty; there is no extra coverage for damage or accidents. Ting.com does co-ordinate warranty returns, so a malfunctioning phone will get replaced under warranty.

Their monthly service rate uses a full credit system, so that unused time is rolled into the next month, while overages are charged at the next discount level rather than at a penalty rate. All service is done through their well designed web-site. As of October 2012, they do not support or sell iPhones, but they have a wide range of Android phones that include support for 3G and LTE high speed data.

Ting.com counts all minutes; there are no free minutes. Calls between Ting.com users (for example, family members) gets counted on both sides; caller and receiver. This means a 30-minute call between two ting.com users results in 60 minutes of account usage time. This can result in higher usage than plans that offer free calling between users or free nights and weekends.

However, their rate plans don’t have a usage penalty, so increasing minutes are charged at a lower rate. Above 5000 minutes per month, additional time is charged at 2-cents per minute, which is far better than the 45-cents per minute penalty rate charged by the big four “MNO” providers.

Regarding coverage, phones using Ting.com roam free of charge on the Verizon network where Sprint service is unavailable. However, data service is not available when roaming. Data service requires either Sprint service or local wi-fi (wireless B/G/N.)

Order service from Ting.com and get a $25 first month credit.

We also evaluated another new MVNO service, Republic Wireless. They offer a flat-rate, unlimited service plan for $19/month that also requires phone purchase. Unlike Ting.com, they offer only one phone, the Motorola DEFY XT. They also do not offer wi-fi hotspot or laptop tethering on their phones.

Instead, they have custom designed their Android phone software to utilize any available wi-fi signal to route phone calls using VoIP over the Internet. This helps reduce the Sprint cellular service usage. Their unlimited service is best suited to a high volume cell phone user that is frequently near a home or office wireless B/G/N (wi-fi) signal.

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