Managing your personal or corporate mobile plans can be a hassle, especially if you're prone to going over your monthly voice, messaging and data allocation. Under-utilizing your monthly plan can also be a waste. Tucows is launching a service that will help deal with changes in usage patterns more easily.

Flexible Subscription Plans for the Mobile User

Tucows is currently running a closed beta of its Ting mobile network. Promising a radical change in the way subscribers are billed, Ting adjusts a user's billing depending on the actual consumption per month. This means that a subscriber is not necessarily locked into a specific usage plan, but will rather move to whichever is the most optimal, price-wise.

With Ting, excess minutes, SMS messages and megabytes of data are not charged on a per-item basis. Rather, users are bumped up or bumped down to the next higher or lower plan if the usage exceeds or is below one's allocation. Tucows' Michael Goldstein says an average mobile user is overpaying by about US$ 336 per year, and Ting's pricing scheme is designed to prevent unnecessary charges brought about by extra -- or unused -- minutes, messages and bandwidth.

Megabytes, minutes and text messages are each billed independently. If you use less of any than you anticipated, you pay less. If you use more, you are simply billed more, without penalties or premiums.

Given these savings, businesses and enterprises that shoulder their employees' mobile plans can expect savings, especially with varying amount of calls, messages and data consumed per month.

 Ting Savings Calculator for mobile usage

Ting offers to estimate your annual savings based on your monthly voice, SMS and data consumption

Savings In the Long Run, But Not Outright

A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), Ting runs over Sprint's nationwide service, and essentially offers subscribers the same coverage, network speed and features, only with a different pricing scheme. MVNOs like Ting essentially acquire network resources from the bigger telcos like Sprint, Verizon and AT&T, and resell these to customers at different pricing packages. Some, like H20, offer unlimited schemes, while some focus on prepaid services.

Ting prides itself in offering no-contract plans. There are both advantages and drawbacks to this, though. Goldstein says users will have to purchase a new device to enjoy the network's pricing schemes, although there is no contract lock-in, like the usual two-year period that comes with most other networks. The main drawback is that the company does not subsidize handset costs, which means smartphones acquired through Ting will usually cost twice or thrice the same mobile phone elsewhere with a two-year contract.

No Handset Subsidies

Still, given the average smartphone user's usage patterns, there will be savings in the long run. CNet's Rafe Needleman made computations based on his usage, and came up with US$ 405.60 in savings yearly. But factoring in a smartphone purchase, savings from a two-year stay with Ting will go down to approximately US$ 108, when compared with another Sprint MVNO, Credo. The difference comes from the out-of-pocket cost for the handset. For instance, an Android-Powered HTC Detail will require the new subscriber to shoulder the outright cost of US$ 495 versus US$ 99 for a subsidized smartphone under contract.

The question is whether regular users will warm up to having to shell out extra cash in exchange for a lighter monthly plan. Perhaps Ting should consider selling subscription-only services for individuals and businesses that are already happy with their existing smartphones or data-enabled tablet computers. But still, this opens up the opportunity for carriers to adopt new pricing schemes. Given that mobile data is becoming more popular among consumers and businesses, it might be time to focus on offering tiered bucket schemes rather than capped bandwidth with extra per-megabyte charges.

Tucows expects to launch Ting by early 2012; interested and eligible mobile users can participate in the private beta.