updated 04:40 pm EST, Mon December 5, 2011
Ting to use step-up, step-down plans
Best known for its file hosting, Tucows is planning a new virtual carrier based off of sprint that could lower the practical cost of a smartphone bill. Ting will drop overage fees in favor of automatic tier changes. Similar to an older Rogers plan in Canada, customers are bumped up to a new tier if they use more voice, messages, or data than included the plan, potentially saving hundreds of dollars over the course of service.
The reverse will also be possible, as those who find themselves underusing part of their plan will be knocked down to the next tier below when it's an option. An example plan for a smartphone would cost $53 per month where it would cost $86 otherwise.
Its primary limitation would be the absence of contracts. While giving users more flexibility to upgrade to a new phone or switch carriers without a penalty, it also means having to stay with service for at least a year to get the full discount. Phone selection is relatively modest and will see a phone like the HTC Detail (Evo Shift on Sprint) cost $495 up front.
Ting isn't expecting to get the iPhone at first but should have it later, the company said. If so, it could be one of the least expensive out-of-contract options for the iPhone in the US and would be the first MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) to pick up Apple's phone in the US.
The newcomer isn't due to take its service live until mid-2012, by which point the Evo Shift will be over a year old. It may modernize the line by the time subscribers can line up.
Launching Ting could provide a rare shift in the mostly static US cellular market. Those who provide unlimited data tend to throttle access, while AT&T and Verizon in introducing caps still have relatively stiff overages for certain parts of service. Prepaid carriers that have cheaper rates often downplay or omit smartphones entirely, with official Sprint-backed carriers like Boost or Virgin often having just one or two devices.