Ting Is Challenging the Mobile Phone Oligopoly

A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 27 2013 12:17 PM

Ting Is Challenging the Mobile Phone Oligopoly  

Cool watches and better hardware aren't going to fix the mobile experience.
Cool watches and better hardware aren't going to fix the mobile experience.

Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images For Samsung Galaxy

I wrote a column earlier this week saying that to really improve the mobile phone experience at this point we don't need better hardware, we need to crush the carriers—the AT&T's and Verizons of the world that are responsible for the worst parts of the mobile phone experience.

A couple of people wrote in and mentioned a company called Ting in this regard. What Ting has done, basically, is that instead of building a whole new redundant mobile phone network, they piggyback on Sprint's network but package and sell the service in a smart way. There are no subsidized phones on Ting. They will sell you a phone if you want, or you can bring your own. But they're a mobile network operator, so what they do is sell you voice, data, and text messaging. Sell it to you for much less money than what you'll pay at the major carriers.

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What's particularly nice is that they don't ask you to precommit to how much service you want to buy. They tell you what it will cost, and then you get billed for what you use.

The only problem is that though Ting certainly supports a lot of devices they don't support iPhones and you can't "bring your own" S4 or most other new phones if you already have one*. So as a product recommendation, it's a mixed bag. If you as a consumer genuinely want to stick it to the established carriers this is the way to go. But I think it also underscores the point I was making in the column—the existing market basis of competition just isn't good enough. Samsung, Apple, and Google are the companies right now that are really driving the mobile-phone industry forward. But at this point if they want to impress me with a dramatically improved user experience, it's not good enough to keep tinkering with the chips and the software. They have to tackle the carrier problem. That means getting their signature devices working on the best networks, and using their platforms to promote the best business practices in the carrier industry rather than the worst.

It obviously is in the short-term interests of Apple and Samsung to team up with Verizon and AT&T to try to trick you into thinking the subsidy model is offering you a good deal, but in the long run breaking out of that model is the best way to offer a meaningfully better overall product experience at this point.

*Correction, Sept. 27, 2013: This article originally said that Ting does not support Samsung's Galaxy S4. It does, provided you buy one from Ting.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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