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Consumer Reports Poll: Users Are More Happy With Smaller Carriers Than Big Four

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Based on the Consumer Reports annual cell phone service ratings, it appears that smaller wireless carriers like Consumer Cellular, Republic Wireless, and Ting are performing better than the major wireless carriers in the United States (Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint). Well, at least according to American mobile users who participated in the Consumer Reports survey.

This is truly an interesting development for upstart wireless carriers, also known in the industry as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). When they first started out, a lot of consumers viewed them with a wary eye. These operators, after all, only make use of the existing networks of far more established names like Verizon or AT&T, and some users often saw that as a sign of inferiority in quality or service. But as shown by the latest Consumer Reports survey, it looks like the challengers have beaten the incumbents in the one area that matters -- customer satisfaction.

The results of the latest Consumer Reports survey also suggest that things are a-changing in totally unpredictable ways in the wireless industry. The world of mobile has always been one that is prone to sudden shifts in trends, and the fact that in the eyes of consumers, MVNOs now are doing better than major wireless carriers is pretty telling.

Or, it is possible that mobile users now are just beginning to see the advantages of choosing no-contract wireless carriers. As for the MVNOs, all their hard work is now starting to pay off.
As explained by Andrew Moore-Crispin of Ting (an MVNO that uses both the T-Mobile and Sprint networks), smaller wireless carriers often have to work harder in getting and retaining customers because they do not have the vast resources to mount comprehensive campaigns to attract new sign-ups.

In completing its survey, Consumer Reports asked 90,000 of its subscribers regarding topics such as data, text messaging, voice calls, and customer service, and then asked them if they thought they got good value for the money they spent. For value, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Sprint got the lowest ratings. T-Mobile fared better than the other major wireless carriers, but still was rated lower than the leading small wireless carriers.

One of the highly rated operators is Consumer Cellular, which runs on AT&T’s network. This wireless carrier offers combo text messaging, voice calls, and data for as little as $25 a month. Other smaller wireless carriers that got high ratings include Republic Wireless, Cricket Wireless, and Page Plus Cellular.

Source: Ting

62 comments:

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  1. Lesser known MVNOs find their way to the top because they have a small base of dedicated users. This is a self-reported survey, so it has tons of selection bias.

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    1. CU has many years of experience conducting statistically significant user surveys. They know how to do them properly. As your statement "they have a small base of >dedicated users.<" that's just your wild-assed guess. Besides, the survey captured opinions over a very short period. Selection bias affects all the carriers. They are measuring customer satisfaction with the carriers that readers chose.

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    2. Yes, selection bias tilts the results sharply. Which causes TMOBILE rankings to be unusually high.

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    3. "They are measuring customer satisfaction with the carriers that readers chose."

      I loved my carrier until I left it, then I realized I'd put up with something bad for years.

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    4. "Yes, selection bias tilts the results sharply. Which causes TMOBILE rankings to be unusually high." More uninformed speculation.
      "I loved my carrier until I left it, then I realized I'd put up with something bad for years." Irrelevant. The CU survey rates carriers their subscribers were using.

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    5. Extremely relevant, as I was referring to loving a bad carrier because I didn't know better.

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    6. Oh, I see. You think subscribers on small carriers like Ting and CC are ignorant. I think they are a lot better informed than people who blindly buy Verizon and AT&T without doing any homework. Then stick around even when they're not really satisfied, and complain to CU.

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  2. Did Ting sponsor this post? Ting users fall for all the hype. If you are somewhat of an average cellphone user, 2000/2000/2000mb...then Ting is a rip off. Tax free Cricket or MetroPCS are twice the allotment, half the cost...

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    1. Your idea of value, unlimited TnT with plenty of mobile data is obviously much different that the actual Ting customers CU polled. They rated value higher than any of the major carriers. Value to them. You will never convince everyone that they need unlimited TnT; most of them do not. The Consumer Cellular and Ting survey scores stand on their own.

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    2. Keep in mind that I'd guess that subscribers to Consumers Reports are likely to be older - the kind of people who might not be sending 1000 texts a month or watching movies on their phones.

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    3. "Keep in mind that I'd guess" Why should anybody keep your guesses in mind?
      "subscribers to Consumers Reports are likely to be older - the kind of people who might not be sending 1000 texts a month or watching movies on their phones."
      More guesswork. Anyway, CC includes a lot of texts with their data+text bundles. And lots of texts are not expensive on Ting.

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    4. With no data at all in most places. Ting isn't one to get if you want to watch movies with data. Or use data at all. This isn't a problem with CC, which has a proper backing network.

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    5. "With no data at all in most places." You are talking about areas where there are virtually no people. Ting's LTE networks cover more than 300M people (Tmo) and 280M people (Sprint). Almost all of the places where people go. CC covers only a few million more, even with their data roaming. Tmo did not win 1st place among major carriers by having "With no data at all in most places." You are just spreading FUD.

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    6. No, I'm talking about extensive areas even in most states in the heavily populated East which are ignored by the substandard carriers. It's not just Montana that are ignored by the bad networks.

      "Ting's LTE networks cover more than 300M people..."

      Meaningless shilling, attempting to deceive, as that requires that those people don't be mobile and never leave their home addresses. Bad networks try to mislead people like this, instead of just covering them.

      "Almost all of the places where people go"

      Actually, about half or a third of where people go. While the good networks cover the vast majority of where they go.

      "CC covers only a few million more, even with their data roaming."

      There's a huge difference between CC and anything TMO/Sprint based, due to its network. That is, if you look at people and where they go and where they can go... actual mobile users, and stop looking at the "cover more than 300M people" stat... which is only good when considering landline replacement.

      The only FUD here is trying to sell a service on a bad network that simple won't work. The fact remains that CC while provide a great experience, while Ting will only let you use that high speed data in a fraction of the area.

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    7. "Tmo did not win 1st place among major carriers by having "With no data at all in most places"

      They won it for other reasons, of course. But they have either no data, 2G data, or grudgingly-given roaming data in most of the US.... which makes it a great plan for 1996 but not 2015.

      No "survey" can change that.

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    8. It's interesting to watch the Tmo and Ting critics try to discredit a CU study of 90K people, their fifth annual cellular carrier servey. E.G: 'the survey is biased' .. CU readers, Ting and CC users are older people who don't text much' .. and 'subscribers of small MVNOs are ignorant of their options.' They have to discredit the CU survey because for another year in a row, survey winners don't fit the silly notion that most people should choose their carrier by looking at national coverage maps. That might work for some truckers, bus drivers, ranchers in remote areas and mountain folks. For everyone else, just follow Dennis' advice. Check coverage where you expect to use to use the phone, then pick the plan that meets your needs. Don't be fooled by people who tell you otherwise. They must think you are ignorant, too.

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  3. Cricket unlimited talk/text 2.5GB fit $35 Inc tax IMHO is very hard to beat especially when considering network.

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    1. Ting and Consumer Cellular can easily 'beat' Cricket because they do not force people to by unlimited service that they do not need or want. Unlimited is a waste of money for most people, and Ting and CC subscribers get that. Especially since family members share the plans. CC even gives free talk among family plan members. And of course, Ting and CC do not throttle LTE or eliminate roaming like Cricket does.

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    2. Ting is on a bad, substandard network (a problem CC doesnt have). With roaming, Ting can be like a real network like Cricket uses. Cricket has such vast coverage that its "roaming ban" only affects a tiny amount of territory and makes a negligible difference.

      The idea that people don't "need" a decent amount of text/talk/data is an opinion, and nothing else. But it is is true that CC covers those with low usage needs better than Cricket. For those who want a lot less and to spend a lot less for it, CC is a good way to go.

      The "throttle LTE" point is not a point at all. When the throttled speeds of Cricket allow for Netflix and HBO-GO, the idea that the speeds are too slow is just a hypothetical idea still looking for an example.

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    3. "Ting is on a bad, substandard network (a problem CC doesnt have). With roaming, Ting can be like a real network like Cricket uses." Ting provides free roaming on Verizon or AT&T when you pick their Sprint or T-Mobile service. CC provides better coverage than Cricket. It is a fact, not an opinion, that many of people don't need unlimited TnT. As for throttled data, you rationalize Cricket's crippled speeds by saying they are good enough for you. Lots of other folks like fast mobile data and CC and Ting give them that.

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    4. No "rationalization". I'd love to know what the faster speeds would enable.

      " It is a fact, not an opinion, that many of people don't need unlimited TnT. "

      That's hard to dispute, and is a huge step back from saying that "most" don't need it, as someone did above.

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    5. "Ting provides free roaming on Verizon or AT&T when you pick their Sprint or T-Mobile service.

      Not really. According to this, Ting does NOT have data roaming:

      https://help.ting.com/hc/communities/public/questions/203802228-Ting-vs-Sprint-data-roaming

      "Lots of other folks like fast mobile data and CC and Ting give them that"

      Unless Ting changed its policies, this is not happening. For most places, Ting gives 0 bars of data. That's not fast.

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    6. "For most places, Ting gives 0 bars of data. That's not fast." This is proven false by the survey itself. If you want to go out where there are virtually no people around and watch movies, fine. That's your thing. Tmo and Ting users don't do that, and neither do 90% of the rest of the population.

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    7. "That's hard to dispute, and is a huge step back from saying that "most" don't need it, as someone did above." Most means more than half. Do you believe that more than half of phone subscribers actually need unlimited talk and text? Highly dubious. Talk stats are trending down, not up.

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    8. ""For most places, Ting gives 0 bars of data. That's not fast." This is proven false by the survey itself.

      Ummm... this is not a matter of an opinion survey. Its from Ting's own web site. They provide data coverage for a small part of the country, and this means no data coverage. Do the math, instead of trying to sell the unsellable.

      "If you want to go out where there are virtually no people around and watch movies, fine"

      Actually, I'm referring to the more than half of the country which is well populated that the substandard carriers don't carry. Only shillers claim that these people and the places they go to.. .and more importanty the places everyone else go to, don't matter.

      . That's your thing. Tmo and Ting users don't do that, and neither do 90% of the rest of the population.

      "That's your thing. Tmo and Ting users don't do that"

      Because they can't. Which comes back to people on bad "not ready for prime time' networks might say how great they are because they are ignorant of much better networks.

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    9. "Do you believe that more than half of phone subscribers actually need unlimited talk and text?"

      Instead of wild guesses and your moralization, let's see real facts on this. Either in the form of a survey about preferences, or from sales states (an excellent indicator of need) about how many choose unlimited vs unlimited.

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    10. This thread reminds me of the Verizon Wireless commercial where some clueless Millenials were asked to pick their carrier based on national coverage maps. Vzw didn't think they could pull it off, so they cheated by using old, outdated T-Mobile maps that only showed the beginnings of the Tmo >LTE< network. Tmo sued and the judge agreed, telling Vzw to stop using the misleading maps. That whole premise of the commercial and the CU survey detractors is flawed: Very few people need coverage across the whole USA. Besides, there are less expensive ways to get the coverage you need than blindly paying more money every month to Vzw or AT&T. The CU survey participants get that. Others don't, or perhaps they feel the need to rationalize swallowing the Vzw argument, just like all those clueless Millenials in the commercial.

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    11. "Very few people need coverage across the whole USA"

      Not in every location. But they need good coverage. In most states, even in the east, VZW and AT&T cover the state, while the others only cover part of it. This will change if T-Mobile keeps its coverage expansion promise. Which will leave Sprint whatever is based on it down in the basement along with US Cellular and the micro-carriers.

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  4. If you want to spend $25 a month...but really $30 per, for 500 min, 1000 texts , and 1000mb please feel free. Page Plus & PureTalk blow Ting outta the water!

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    1. Ting provides better TnT coverage than PagePlus or PureTalk. PagePlus CS is Really Poor now. PureTalk charges $35 for the amounts you cite.

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  5. cu? 90k users? That's is a lie. Ting? Only know of it because of the forums. Otherwise you can find them anywhere. Mpcs. Cricket and some Mexican catered carriers are more popular than ting and CC.

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    1. Metro and Cricket subscribers are less satisfied than CC and Ting subscribers. That is what the survery shows. 90K+ CU subscribers answered the survey. A fact. You have not basis for calling it a lie. You just made that up, or did not read.

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  6. There may be some merit to this. I've been very happy with MetroPCS. They had an outage yesterday and I got a service credit without having to even ask. Of course, it's really T-Mobile but this went a long way.

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  7. I could not read the survey past seeing that readers rated Page Plus well. Must be people who did not need CS in the past 2 years.

    Friends/family don't let friends/family have service on any America Movil "brand".

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  8. Republic Wireless, Cricket Wireless, and Page Plus Cellular all have very poor customer service. It makes me doubt the legitimacy of this study.

    Sprint has a significantly lower ARPU than T-Mobile. This means Sprint customers are, on average, paying less than T-Mobile customers

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    1. I've dealt with Cricket CS for a year now. It was gawdawful a year ago. Now it is good to very good.

      At least compared to Verizon, AT&T and some subsidiaries/MVNO's I've dealt with.

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  9. Page Plus is on Verizon. Ting can't touch it. Pure Talk has some cheaper plans than Ting, plus their fees & taxes...add 20% in some areas. I think that Ting caters to control freaks that want to constantly adjust their allotments. Why wouldn't you want Airvoices Unlimited T&T with 100mb for $20 per month period? Why not have a buffer....rather than constantly chking? Customer service is important...for that Pure Talk beats em all! Savings is still the most important. Notice how no one ever claims that Ting has the best rates....because they don't...and as reception goes...well you will never need roaming if you go with a VZW or ATT mvno!

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    1. Cheapest price and biggest nation-wide network is one way to pick a carrier. Ting is not chasing your business, and they never will. Ting is looking for customers who want to ditch their postpaid plans and save money by only paying for what they use. Couples and families are their ideal customers, and it's working. A very large percentage of Ting customers have multiple devices sharing plans, the ideal way to use Ting. With free TnT roaming on Vzw or AT&T, Ting has better standard coverage than PagePlus, which charges 20c or 29c/minute to use the Vzw extended network. The Ting dashboard gives families lots of controls to manage their plans and use by teens. The best customer service around, not poorly trained offshore staff. No, you don't have to be a control freak; the plans adjust automatically (it appears you don't know that), but users can turn off a service for a few days to avoid paying more. "Buffers," buying more than you need every month, costs you money in the long run. Ting educates subscribers how to manage their mobile data use to save money. Having used all 3 companies mentioned, each definitely has its pros and cons. For example, why should people have to choose between an unlimited plan or pay a minimum of $9.95/month jus to get mobile data with PureTalk? Better for you is certainly not better for me or even most people.

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    2. If page plus coverage and plan suits a person I can not warn a person away from them strongly enough. Since the Movil takeover CS is horrid, no one needs to be subjected to it. I would suggest to them to look at Selectel with similar plans, full VZ extended postpaid network for no added charges and decent USA based CS.

      America Movil = non-starter for anyone I advise / influence / manage in re to mobile service.

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    3. My wife used the Selectel annual plan before they had 4G, and service was fine. We used Freedom Wireless of B.C. for free activation, and Zack gave us great support and a 3% discount on everything. Now if you want 4G you only get enough data to send picture messages, $20/month, or you pay $30/month. Wife switched to Consumer Cellular and pays $23/month total for 250-1500-150, which is perfect for her.

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    4. I had terrible luck with Freedom Witless, BC. First they bungled and erased my account info, losing my account. Another time they shut it off with no warning. Around that time, the company closed it's doors and shut off its phone and support for a few weeks with no explanation.

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    5. Zach took a much-deserved vacation, announced more than a month in advance. Good for him; he earned it. Too bad you missed the announcement. If you don't pay your bill, the carrier shuts you off. That is how life works - it's not bad luck, you gotta pay attention.

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    6. " If you don't pay your bill, the carrier shuts you off. That is how life works - it's not bad luck"

      That's a crime and out to be outlawed, according to our "Worst Generation", the millennials. Like the guy who had a long laundry list of problems with Cricket, that included the outrage of Cricket ending your service if you decide not to pay for it any more. Or the guys who come on here in a spittle-flecked rage about RingPlus, angrily declaring that they would only pay the company a penny over their dead bodies. Or the recent guy who moaned and blubbered over that fact that Cricket Wireless' recent 50% off Samsung sale was limited in time and number of phones.

      Greed and entitlement. Goes hand in hand with the very popular idea of increasing your income not by improving your skills and the quality of work, by by petitioning the government to force companies to give you raises that you never earn at all.

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  10. Ting is almost as scattered as Ring Plus. I don't feel comfortable with any company that has so many freaking options. Most of us have busy enough lives and we don't want to go and toggle something on and off or concern ourselves with roaming, or whether or not we will have to wait 20 minutes for a text to come thru! Roaming is not the same as VZW direct service. VZW prepaid map (PagePlus) beats most postpaid maps. Question to the guy with his wife paying $23/per month... What's the final bill after taxes and fees? 29? Sprint runs themselves super thin...selling way too much mvno service. Dropped calls have become the norm. Most people don't know about PureTalk...best $5 plan EVER! No fees and Free express SIM ship. Ting & RP try to hard. Ultra Mobile isn't perfect, but from a business perspective, they are killing it. Super simple web layout, uncomplicated options, multi-month deals, preloaded sims. Its simple streamlined companies will continue to get huge because the people that run them understand that websites shouldn't look like textbooks. Product options should be super clean, a short list, a quick read....unlike this post, ha

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    1. "Ting is almost as scattered as Ring Plus. I don't feel comfortable with any company that has so many freaking options." Relax. You don't have to pick a plan. You just pay for what you use. No hands all month, if that's your thing.
      "Question to the guy with his wife paying $23/per month... What's the final bill after taxes and fees? 29?" Answer: The bill is $19 before taxes, $23 after.
      "Sprint runs themselves super thin... Dropped calls have become the norm." This is old, outdated info. Sprint has very low dropped calls after Network Vision. 6/10 of 1% in the past quarter, and they had fewer dropped calls than the other carriers in many cities. Ultra only sells Unlimited Tnt with no roaming off Tmo network at all; Ting gives vastly more coverage with free AT&T and regional carrier roaming.

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    2. "Most people don't know about PureTalk...best $5 plan EVER! No fees and Free express SIM ship." Once again, you gotta read and keep up. $5 only gets you up to 80 minutes or up to 240 sms; you don't get buckets of both, and it's use or lose. 1-400MB of data costs the same $9.95 extra, again it's use or lose. SIMs are $3; free ended a couple of months ago. Works for some, but if you want a little data, Ting gives you a lot more for $15 (100-100-100).

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    3. " Ting gives vastly more coverage with free AT&T and regional carrier roaming. "

      Not really. This coverage does not include DATA, which is crucial in today's world. TING would have been superb 15 or so years ago, but not now.

      "but if you want a little data, Ting gives you a lot more for $15 (100-100-100)."

      ....data which can only be used in a fraction of the country, including the problem of spotty coverage in most ALL US states and markets .

      Go for CC instead. It's on a true national network, not a spotty would-be one.

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    4. "Not really. This coverage does not include DATA," Yes, really. Ultra provides no voice and text roaming; Ting gives extensive, free roaming.
      "....data which can only be used in a fraction of the country," No worse than Ultra, the carrier recommended above. Of course, the "statement" is true of all carriers ;-)

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    5. "Of course, the "statement" is true of all carriers ;-)"

      Many carriers have good data coverage. Some are mentioned here, such as CC. Ting is not one of them.

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    6. You have a strange definition of "good," since 280-300M people do not need better LTE coverage than Ting provides its subscribers. People who are significantly more satisfied than AT&T customers. AT&T covers about 305M people with LTE in places where people actually go. Wow, what a difference.

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    7. And the fan boy has his final word about Ting's 300 million customers.

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  11. Marketing claims to the contrary, one size does not fit all. I'm happy there are MVNO offering flavor of the week plans even if they're not my cup of tea. I'm happy there are $40 unlimited talk & text plans with modest amounts of data, even though I use less than 100 mobile minutes most months. I'm happy there are still a few pay as you go plans out there. I'm especially happy all these options are available without long term contracts, so I can easily change if my needs change, or if I simply choose poorly.

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  12. I can't comment directly on Ting's service, but I can praise them for being honest. When I ran my usage pattern through their widget it told me I would not save money with them. I will also point out that for us watching our minutes closely and changing plans up and down would not be worth it--my wife is incapable of doing something like that, so it would be up to me and knowing her she would blow through the minutes one month, then have none the next. I'd rather pay a bit more to have the comfort of unlimited talk and text and have one less thing to worry about and monitor.

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    1. "...for us watching our minutes closely and changing plans up and down would not be worth it--my wife is incapable of doing something like that, so it would be up to me and knowing her she would blow through the minutes one month, then have none the next. " You don't pick plans on Ting. You do not have to watch your minutes or change anything if you aren't capable of doing it, or just don't want to. Everything is fully automatic. Just use the service and pay for what you used, after the fact. Payment automatic, too. No need to pay extra for unlimited minutes in case you have high usage in some months.

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  13. Just for kicks, I just ran 500 minutes, 300 texts, and 500mb through the Ting calculator and it tells me it would be more than the $29 per month I pay to PureTalk for unlimited talk and text and 500mb. PT has excellent customer service and it is easy to adjust your account up and down depending on your usage. Just call, and one of their friendly US-based phone reps will take care of it quickly. The point being that even though Ting and Consumer do score well this site and others can help you find a prepaid service that even better fits your needs.

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    1. Not only that, "just for kicks" but with Ting you would have a vastly inferior experience compared to PureTalk if you planned to use the data at all. PureTalk is backed by AT&T, which means blanket AT&T data coverage, instead of the isolated spots of data coverage from Ting (and Ting won't let you roam onto a network with good data coverage)..

      Anyone who repeatedly talks about how great Ting is due to roaming onto AT&T and neglects to mention that this does not include data is attempting to mislead.

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    2. Readers here are not stupid; they can read coverage maps for themselves. Dennis offers the best advice: First check coverage for the places where you will use the phone. Then peick the plan that best meets your needs. Buying data or voice coverage you don't need is a waste of money.

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    3. The only "waste of money" is paying premium prices for a plan that has lousy coverage in most places. Your logic only works if you live exactly in a spot covered by Ting. If you plan to be mobile, which includes traveling a mere few miles from a POP, then you might very well need data coverage. I suppose then you will argue that people just don't need data at all. Thank you, Captain 1998.

      Anyway, you can get decent coverage (unlike with Ting) and pay a little less by going with examples mentioned such as Pure Talk and CC. Real networks, not compromises.

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    4. The marketing folks at Vzw and AT&T must love reading your posts. Convince people they need something they did not think they needed, and charge them more for it. It's like picking the cable TV package that has the most channels because 'some day' you 'might' watch the extra 150-200 channels beyond what you watch now. At least watching extra TV channels is easier than traveling to every place in the USA that you don't need coverage. Fortunately for everybody 125M Sprint and T-Mobile customers did not fall for the big carrier marketing tricks. Otherwise, Vzw and AT&T would be charging everyone double, with none of the innovation they have been shamed into grudgingly providing over the past several years.

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    5. Does anyone enjoy reading carrier fanboy comments? Use what works for you and stop trying to justify your choices.

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  14. FYI -- Airvoice: Small AT&T MVNO has a good low data allotment deal - $20 for unlmtd T&T plus 100MB. The Sprint/T-Mobile combo is just second rate coverage. Overall, AT&T & VZW service is just more reliable.

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    1. Yeah... Airvoice. Lower price, and a network that lets you use your phone almost everywhere you live/work/play. Not some/most places (which is the case with TING).

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