RingTo has been completely free to use since it launched several years ago. Yesterday PrepaidPhoneNews covered RingTo's announcement the service was going to cost $18 per year effective January 1, 2015, although current users have until February 15 before they have to start paying. The announcement left a lot of questions unanswered. Now RingTo has revealed more details about the changes in a post to its private, invite only Google+ Group for users of the Beta version of RingTo's Android app. A member of that group reposted the message on HowardForums. I've reposted the message in its entirety at the end of this post, but the key points are:
- The $18 (plus unspecified taxes) annual fee will be per account, not per number. There is no limit to how many numbers can be attached to a single account.
- RingTo's terms of service will limit the maximum number of minutes per month to just 300. The current limit is 5,000 minutes. RingTo doesn't say if that's 300 minutes per line or per account. They do say that they won't actually enforce the 300 minute limit and that the real, but undisclosed, limit will be much higher.
- The RingTo service is going into "maintenance mode" in 2016. After the last new feature, contact list integration, which is currently in development, is released development of new features will end and the RingTo service will be supported by a skeleton crew.
- RingTo might shut down if not enough people sign up for paid service
My take is that Bandwith, RingTo's parent company, has decided it doesn't want to subsidize RingTo any longer. I'm not surprised. This is what happens to free services from businesses, they either find a way to be profitable or they get shut down.
I'm disappointed that RingTo broke a promise to its users that had been posted on one of their support pages up until sometime yesterday:
How can RingTo be free? Are you loading this up with ads? What’s the catch?
Bandwidth, the company behind RingTo has over a decade of supporting disruptive communications companies. We believe that your phone number is a powerful asset and by using the RingTo service, you are actually helping us refine our systems that are commercialized in other areas of Bandwidth’s business.
The RingTo service will be completely free for the foreseeable future.
Don’t worry – we won’t hit you with a bill by surprise, and there will always be a free tier to our service when / if we decide to charge for the service.
I'm also disappointed by RingTo saying the there's a 300 minute per month limit in the terms, but they won't enforce it and the real limit is much higher. Why state a limit if you aren't going to enforce it? Why not just say what the real limit is rather than scaring and confusing users?
If you are looking for an alternative to RingTo, Google Voice is still mostly free although it costs $20 to port a number into Google Voice. You can't port RingTo numbers directly to Google Voice either. Because Google Voice only supports port-ins of mobile numbers, you have to first port your RingTo number to a mobile operator and then to Google Voice. Porting to T-Mobile Prepaid is generally considered the cheapest and easiest route because T-Mobile lets you port a number in and out without ever funding or using the T-Mobile service, although you do need to buy a T-Mobile SIM.
There's also a lively discussion about the change and alternatives to RingTo happening on RingTo's public user forum
Here's the text of RingTo's post on the private Google + RingTo Beta Users Group as it was reposted on HowardForums:
Earlier today we notified about 11,000 users that RingTo will be moving to a paid service in 2016. As beta users, you are usually privy to information before the general RingTo population, but the particulars of this announcement made it challenging to stage the information.Source: HowardForums
What most of you really want to know is.... how does this affect me?
If you ported a number into RingTo then you are one of the 11,000 that got an email blast from us earlier today. You are the 1% (figuratively speaking). You put your trust in us with your phone number. You were part of the sometimes painful lessons we learned about porting. We want to make sure your number still has a safe home.
If you did not get the email, but are part of this beta group, it means either we messed up our record keeping (possible) or more likely, you signed up with Groove IP and use the RingTo app only for account management and SMS/MMS.
In 2016 RingTo will be entering a maintenance period. What that means is you should not count on new features. The last "major" feature will be contact list integration. After that we'll address critical bugs, should any arise. There will be a skeleton staff to ensure the service remains up and running.
After a lot of number crunching and analysis of user call trends, we saw that the average use of minutes across the entire RingTo base of monthly active users is about 100 minutes. Based on that we crunched some more numbers and determined that if enough people sign up at $18/year, we are willing to let the service continue. We made it affordable in the hopes to attract as many of the 11,000 users who ported their number in.
The email blast was light on details. I'll try to hit the common questions here:
1. Cost - $18/yr per account. Not per number. Tax is not included.
2. Usage - The Terms of Service currently sets a limit of 5,000 minutes of use per month. In order to keep costs low at $18/yr, we will be reducing the limit to 300. Your initial reaction will be WTF! Go back and re-read the part about the average use across the entire base. The limit is to protect against abuse. Have we ever enforced the TOS for abuse? Yup, but only in the most egregious cases. In other words, this is not something that we really want to enforce. If the group average creeps up, the highest users will be getting a note from us, along with possible suspension of service. If you dial into a party line all day long (you know who you are AND I KNOW who you are), RingTo is not for you.
3. 911 support – Nope. As a pure OTT app and call forwarding solution, there will not be any e911 support unless there is an FCC mandate.
4. Obihai – If you use an Obi, you are not only in the 1%, you are in the 0.01% (again, figuratively speaking). You are a very special group of users who tend to be highly technical and very familiar with the nuances of VoIP. You generally don’t want a pre-packaged solution, you want the flexibility of mixing / matching your device and VoIP providers. You want to save money and you want a rock-solid service. Based on the small number of users we have on RingTo, there was no reasonable price point we could offer that would allow us to support Obi devices while also offering 911 capabilities and the extra support overhead on our side for managing the tickets we get from Obi users. Rather than offer an unreasonably priced service, we’ve elected to be up front and are committed to helping you find an alternative provider that will support your Obi device. We are working with Obihai to help identify partners that would like to roll out the welcome mat for existing RingTo users. Which leads to the next point.
5. Anveo 911 – Did you just renew? Wondering if you’ll actually get a year of e911 service for that $15? We’re working with Anveo right now to sort out how to best offer a transition period. More news will come.
6. GrooVe IP – GrooVe IP will be sending out a notice in the near future about their new and improved app experience. GrooVe IP and RingTo will be parting ways in 2016. It has been an incredible partnership that has brought value to both parties.
7. Timing – RingTo is marching towards a February transition for users that are interested in continuing. While the actual dates may change, the direction of the service will not. For both GrooVe IP and Obi users, the timing of a transition will be announced in January.
8. Betas – There will likely be one more beta before the end of 2015, focused on contact list integration. No plans for more betas in 2016 at the moment.
Is $18/yr worth the price? That is a personal decision for each of you to make. I will put on my “sales” hat and just remind you of the following:
1. Most people have a cell phone and really just need a simple / cheap place to park/forward their number. If that sounds like you, RingTo is probably going to be one of the most cost effective solutions for you.
2. RingTo has NEVER inserted ads or sold your information to advertisers. Monetization through advertising is just not in our DNA.
3. RingTo is the only app on the market today that allows you to dynamically select your outbound number. No other app does it. In fact, we have a patent pending on that feature. If you have multiple phone numbers, RingTo is likely still a good deal for you.
Is this goodbye? Hopefully not. For those of you that have been part of RingTo for over six months know that we try to give you as much transparency as possible. If there is no interest from our community in seeing RingTo as a service worth paying for, then the alternative is an orderly shutdown for everyone.