Economic Development and Technology

Cell provider Ting finds good reception in Grand Rapids

August 19, 2016
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Yes, there are other cellphone providers beyond the “big four” of Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T.

This is the tale of how Ting, a departure from mobile industry norms, forged its own market in Grand Rapids.

Based in Toronto, Ontario, Ting is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that provides cellphone service but doesn’t have its own network, similar to Cricket Wireless. It operates on T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s networks and allows customers to pay month to month based on data usage rather than a prepaid plan. Ting launched in 2012, born out of Toronto-based Tucows Inc., which provides network access, domain names and other Internet services. Ting is now available nationwide.

Smaller MVNOs such as Ting are starting to carve their piece of the cellular market’s pie. Nobody seems to like their cellphone companies, and most data-buying plans feel like elaborate games people are locked into and destined to lose, said Michael Goldstein, Ting’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Thanks to the internet and all the ways that customers now are being served, he feels “there’s a bunch of little guys like us that are growing.”

“It’s really about building a cellphone service that makes sense, that’s not looking to confuse anyone or obscure information but (to bring) clarity into what (customers) are using, what they’re paying, and ultimately give them control,” he said. “You’re just paying for what you use.”

Ting has approximately 225,000 subscribers in the United States, including about 10,000 in Michigan. Grand Rapids is one of its largest markets in the nation, Goldstein said. The city has 775 Ting subscribers, the most of any city in Michigan. Ann Arbor is No. 2 with a little more than 600 Ting subscribers.

Part of what’s working for the company is word of mouth through customers who rank it as one of the most satisfactory cellphone carriers.

“We were first included in the Consumer Reports annual survey of U.S. cellphone carriers in 2015 and got the highest overall rating (91) any provider had ever received. We were in the survey again in 2016 and were right up top again with Consumer Cellular, another great challenger brand,” Goldstein said.

“Considering how small we still are, it was amazing that our customers lobbied to even get us included in the survey and even more amazing to see us sitting there on top of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.”

Both Sprint and and T-Mobile have good coverage in Grand Rapids, Goldstein said, but the reason a place like Grand Rapids is ripe for smaller MVNOs is that it seems to do really well in places that are connected to colleges.

“I think it’s about smart, enlightened, progressive, maybe even liberal people that look beyond (the status quo). If you look at who’s using Ting, it’s clustered around these college towns,” he said.

Four of the top five Michigan cities that use Ting are in West Michigan. Kalamazoo and Holland each had just under 300 subscribers, and Muskegon had just under 100.

Bob Browning, an engineer and Grand Rapids resident, has been a Ting customer for two and a half years.

“I like having my smartphone with data but have Wi-Fi at work and home and have a landline at both, so I don’t use my phone a lot but like having it for when I do. When I first switched, I went four months with a total bill of $17 per month. That blew my mind,” he said.

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