Is Ting, Google Voice, and BYOD the best for me?
April 22, 2016 8:41 AM   Subscribe

I’ve never had to buy my own phone or cell plan before -- it’s always been through an employer. I know the phone I want, and I want to get the best value on it and a suitable service plan. I have a strawman. Is it the right idea?

More details:
Phone: I’m planning on an iPhone 6 unless someone talks me into one of its close variants. Used is fine.
Coverage area: I live in Arlington, MA. I travel occasionally, and I’ll likely travel more in my next role.
Usage: I don’t have access to bills, but I think I’ve been using about 500 talk minutes (and I’m comfortable treating that as a cap), 50-100 messages (and lots more iMessages), and 1.5GB data monthly -- but that 1.5 should go down a lot now that I won’t have a daily, long, public transportation commute.
Porting: I want to port my number, and I’m not sure whether to port it to the new cell phone or to Google Voice.

I’m frugal and I want the best value, but I might not want the cheapest possible option. My tentative plan is to buy a used T-Mobile iPhone 6 on swappa (in the $300’s) and a Ting GSM card, and port my number to Ting, used over T-Mobile. According to this I’d pay $37 or 47/month, depending how much I decrease my data use. Can I beat that cost or that idea in any way? Or, since I’d rather not watch any of my usage at all, can I do almost as well without limits (or with higher ones)? What would I get if I paid a little more?

Some more considerations:
-Would a contract that includes a phone ever work out better than buying my own phone?
-Are some carriers to be avoided (for bad coverage, call quality, service, or whatever) even if they’re best in terms of cost?
-Would adding in Google Voice lead to savings? I have a number that I’ve never used because it gets too many spam calls. If I do start using Google Voice, should I port my current cell number there instead of to Ting, and forward to a new Ting number? I don’t know if I’d be able to -- I see people on Google Voice forums who couldn’t port numbers that were recently corporate, even after they were released to personal accounts as mine will be.
posted by daisyace to Shopping (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Or, since I’d rather not watch any of my usage at all, can I do almost as well without limits (or with higher ones)? What would I get if I paid a little more?

Ting just charges you for the category you end up in each month (so if you have low usage, they charge you less; high usage, they charge you more). You don't have to know in advance what category you'll be in. From the page you linked:
How does Ting billing work?
Voice minutes, text messages and megabytes of data are each billed separately. Your usage is pooled and shared across all the devices you have under your account. At the end of each billing cycle, we'll settle up for whichever usage level you hit.

Wait, so I'm not picking a plan?
Nope. No plans here. Rather than asking you to pre-pay for a portion of your usage, we decided to keep things simple. Just use what you need and we'll settle up at the end of your billing cycle.
posted by lazuli at 8:57 AM on April 22, 2016

I ported my home number to Google Voice. One of the best features is the ability to block someone very easily so they get a message that the one is no longer a working number. I rarely get a spam call thrice from the same number. I never tried to port out of GV, but it is apparently possible. You could port to GV and if that is not working for you, port it to your cell. Or vice versa. If you want to keep the number because a lot of folks have it as your contact info, porting to GV gives you the flexibility to change carriers, numbers etc. It also gives you the ability to have both a personal cell and a business cell ring using your GV number. This is a terrific feature. Essentially, then you would only need to carry your business phone. That would ring with business calls and if it is one of your registered phones with GV, it will also ring when someone calls your personal phone number.

My experience with data usage and this is based on my own usage and three children who are now 19, 20, and 21, is that you end up using whatever you are allocated. I think if you got a low usage plan, you would be fine, but if you got a higher usage plan, you would find a way to use it.

I cannot address the iPhone as I have an Android phone (One Plus One) that is rooted and modded. I can tell you that my kids who have various models of iPhone would be severely crippled not being able to use iMessage. I would say that each would increase their sms numbers by at least a 1,000 each month. I am on an unlimited text plan, so that would not make a difference, but if you have a limited plan, consider the amount of iMessages you use.

As for buying a phone versus being on plan, in terms of dollars, it is almost always (or always) better to buy your own phone. The argument for a plan is they will finance it, (but that can also be accomplished without a plan) and it locks in rates for the duration of the plan if you think rates are going up. It also requires less up front outlay. Buying a new phone could be anywhere from $300 to $700, an iPhone is at the top of the range.
posted by AugustWest at 9:01 AM on April 22, 2016

I use Ting on an iPhone 6 and love it. iMessages don't count against your SMS so make friends with other iPhone users I guess. However, one drawback is not being able to send pictures to non-iPhone users.

-Would adding in Google Voice lead to savings?

I don't see how. Even if you're on wifi it's using minutes.
posted by AFABulous at 9:08 AM on April 22, 2016

Ting user. You can set your ting account to give you warnings if you hit a certain amount. Or if your 3G/4G usage isn't crucial, you can set it to block your access if you reach a certain limit.

I'm not a Google Voice user, so no help on that angle. But, there are settings / Apps to help reduce your data (e.g., set to only do updates when you are connected to wireless).

For minutes and traveling or remote work, keep conference calls in mind. Some conferencing systems let you call in on your laptop which reduces minutes but not all.
posted by typecloud at 9:08 AM on April 22, 2016

I have ported in and out of Google voice, and it worked fine both times. (The reason I ported away was because GV didn't support MMS/photo texts, but I believe that has changed.)

If you port your number to Google voice, you won't be able to use iMessage with your GV phone number, I think. You could still send and receive iMessages with your AppleID/email. But if one person gets your phone number (the one on your phone, not the one on your GV) into their iPhone contacts, they are likely going to start sending you iMessages at that number (they won't even know, it will just be in their phone/contacts) and then there will be some confusing times.

I live in Somerville and I have T-Mobile and it works fine for me; my coverage tends to drop off more quickly as I get into rural areas than my friends/family on Verizon or AT&T, but it's rarely an issue. FWIW, T-Mobile has an unlimited Talk/Text/Data plan where the first 3GB of data are 4G/LTE (and after 3GB you get throttled down to 3G) for $40/month.
posted by mskyle at 9:11 AM on April 22, 2016

I travel occasionally, and I’ll likely travel more in my next role
Will this be international travel or domestic? If international, it might be worth it to get an unlocked phone, instead of a T-Mobile phone.
posted by soelo at 9:23 AM on April 22, 2016

Oh but if it *is* international travel... T-Mobile postpaid accounts ("Simple Choice" plans) actually have an amazing feature: they work the same in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, AND you get unlimited text and (slower) data in 140+ countries. Calls are $0.20 a minute when you're outside North America.
posted by mskyle at 9:30 AM on April 22, 2016

True, T-Mobile has good international options, but OP is planning to use Ting, not T-Mobile. It would be worth looking into the rate differences and deciding based on how often they plan to be out of the country.
posted by soelo at 9:34 AM on April 22, 2016

Just saw this week that Cricket Wireless has an unlimited data/voice/text plan now. Intended to compete with TMobile. Cricket uses AT&T's network as they are a subsidiary. I have had them for 2 years and have been very pleased.
posted by terrapin at 9:39 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I may be wrong about this, but I believe there is no way to use Google Voice on iOS and not pay for minutes. I'm also pretty sure your usage is heavy enough that Ting is not going to be a good deal. The last time I checked it was really only cost-effective for very light smartphone use. T-Mobile has a plan that's $80 for unlimited talk/text and 6GB per line, if you can find someone else to split the plan with you it's an outstanding deal for all but the heaviest data users.
posted by wnissen at 9:42 AM on April 22, 2016

There is an ATT Go Phone plan at $45 that give unlimited minutes and messages, plus 2Gb high speed data/unlimited low speed once you hit that cap. Reasonable addons of data ($10/500 Mb) if you do go over the cap. If you use AutoPAy (i.e., store your credit card with them), the price per month is $40. Last, they offer rollover minutes.

No international calling possible, except within North America.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:54 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Will this be international travel or domestic? If international, it might be worth it to get an unlocked phone, instead of a T-Mobile phone.
I think it's safe to figure on mostly domestic. Even if I did get an unlocked phone, I thought it would become a T-Mobile phone to use it for Ting's T-Mobile network. No?

T-Mobile has an unlimited Talk/Text/Data plan where the first 3GB of data are 4G/LTE (and after 3GB you get throttled down to 3G) for $40/month.
This might defeat my strawman. Any downsides?

Cricket Wireless has an unlimited data/voice/text plan now.
Hmm, and at $35/mo for unlimited talk/text + 2.5GB, maybe even better. Any downsides to that one?
posted by daisyace at 9:55 AM on April 22, 2016

Would there be any drawbacks to trying Ting, seeing if I beat $35, and if not, switching to Cricket? Would the phone's network/unlocking thing preclude that, and/or would I hit other problems?
posted by daisyace at 10:04 AM on April 22, 2016

I think it's safe to figure on mostly domestic. Even if I did get an unlocked phone, I thought it would become a T-Mobile phone to use it for Ting's T-Mobile network. No?
No. I have an unlocked iPhone 6s (do they even make locked iPhones any more?). When I'm in the US I put a Ting SIM in, and when I'm in the UK I put a local SIM in. That works. That's what "unlocked" means in this context.
posted by caek at 10:17 AM on April 22, 2016

Oh, got it. Unlocked phones on Swappa carry a bit of a premium, but Swappa says it checks all listings for clear ESN's and IMEI's. Does that mean I can buy whatever's cheapest and then unlock it or move it to whatever carrier I'm going to go with (e.g., T-Mobile for Ting or AT&T for Cricket)? Or do I need to get either an unlocked phone or the one associated with a carrier that I've already picked?
posted by daisyace at 10:35 AM on April 22, 2016

T-Mobile has terrible nationwide coverage IMO. If you are careful about what used device you buy and how you activate it, you can have AT&T or Verizon service through StraightTalk with unlimited talk/text and 5GB/mo data for a straight up $45. This is what I've done (we have 1 each of AT&T and Verizon in my family).
posted by no1hatchling at 10:42 AM on April 22, 2016

AT&T was actually very helpful in unlocking my iPhone 5s so I could move over to Ting. The rep explained all the information that was needed on the unlock request form so it was a breeze to fill out. Once I submitted the request form, I think it was less than 15 minutes until I received an email confirming that my phone was now unlocked.

Ting offers a few options for monitoring/controlling your usage. You can receive an alert when your usage nears a specified level, or you can establish a firm upper cap. Their dashboard makes it easy to track your usage in real time.
posted by DrGail at 11:06 AM on April 22, 2016

Does that mean I can buy whatever's cheapest and then unlock it

Don't count on being able to unlock a phone unless you know who the original owner was. The carrier will usually require their name, account number and the original phone number assigned to the device, along with some phone specific info. Yes, many iPhones are still locked to a carrier so that they can let people buy on installments. Verizon sells unlocked because you can't use their phones on most other US carriers, I think.

If you aren't sure who you will stay with, spend a little extra for the unlocked version. If your new gig will pay for your bill, they may require a specific carrier.
posted by soelo at 12:32 PM on April 22, 2016

Ting is good if T-Mobile has good coverage everywhere you want to be. Cricket has the big advantage of using the AT&T network and is only $35/month for the cheapest plan (which includes 2.5 GB of data and unlimited call and text).

I've been very happy with Cricket to date. They definitely don't have all of the most recent bells and whistles (AT&T enabled WiFi calling the month after I moved to Cricket), but they're very good at providing good service at a very good price. If you can convince family members or friends to join you on a Cricket plan, you can get significant discounts off each additional person who joins.
posted by Betelgeuse at 2:07 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

One point about Google Voice... You can use the Google Hangouts app and make and receive calls using Data instead of Voice minutes. This data call can be over wifi or cellular (4G preferred, 3G also works). This is super handy if you want to go with a low minutes plan and have access to good wifi at home and/or work or where you tend to make most of your calls. But the best part is using this internationally while traveling to make calls from hotel or other wifi because if you are calling US numbers, it is free! And don't forget you can also use FaceTime audio or video calls to your contacts who have iPhones. That also uses data only, no voice minutes.
posted by thewildgreen at 6:23 PM on April 22, 2016

Thank you very much, everybody! Based on all your input, I've revised my plan to be: buy an unlocked iPhone 6, and sign up for Cricket's $35/mo unlimited talk/text & 2.5GB data plan. Google Voice won't come into it, since I won't have to mind my minutes and it sounds like that's not what Google Voice helps with, anyway.

Then, if my usage runs lower than I expect without even trying, I can try switching to Ting. Or, if I'm unhappy with Cricket, I'll come back to this thread to pick the next option -- maybe T-Mobile's own $40 plan.

If anyone has remaining thoughts about drawbacks to that plan or whatever else, I'm still interested. Otherwise, thanks all!
posted by daisyace at 8:47 AM on April 23, 2016

Oh yeah -- and if one of you current Cricket users wants to refer me, we'd each get $25 off, so shoot me a memail if you're interested. Thanks!
posted by daisyace at 9:13 AM on April 23, 2016

I've been on Cricket for a few days, having bought a used, unlocked iPhone 6 on Swappa, and so far, so good! Coverage and speed have been good for me so far. My data usage has been low enough that Ting would be cheaper, but I'll see how my usage varies over time before counting on that. Meanwhile, if a mefite needs a Cricket referral (a $25 discount for both sides), shoot me a memail. Thanks again for all the help!
posted by daisyace at 7:48 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

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