Look out big telcos, Ting shares data across devices

Ting, a new reseller of Sprint’s(s s) voice, 3G and WiMax services, launched this week with one of the most unique mobile plans to date. Much like large carrier family plans, Ting subscribers can share their voice minutes and text messages. But there’s a differentiating twist: Ting customers also share their monthly data across all devices on the plan.
The shared data component is exactly what I called for last year. I noted that household data plans are the next step for consumers, mainly because people are adding more connected screens and devices to their lifestyle. And different household members have different data needs; some use a little while others consume gobs of gigabytes. Why not average out the usage across multiple devices?
Tacking on a separate data plan for each device or family member simply isn’t efficient and the ability share a bucket of bytes across multiple devices is becoming more desirable. Both AT&T(s t) and Verizon(s vz)(s vod) have hinted at family data plans arriving as early as this year, but the devil’s in the details: We’ll have to see if the deck is stacked in favor of the carriers or the consumer. I anticipate the former, but I’ll wait to pass judgment.
Choosing a Ting plan appears simple with each plan sized like a pair of jeans ranging from XS to XXL for each service: voice minutes, text messages and data. Each device added to the plan costs $6 per month. As an example: three devices sharing 500 minutes, 2,000 text messages and 3 GB of data would cost $95 per month. That’s a total price for service on all three devices; not per device.
If you choose a plan size in a given month but actually use a smaller size, Ting will credit you the difference. Likewise, if you use more minutes, messages or data than your plan size allows, Ting will automatically bump you up to that plan charge. Your monthly bill may fluctuate as a result, but as Ting says, choosing the right plan isn’t too important due to this flexibility. There are clearly stated overages if you go beyond the XXL plan for any component.
Also of note is the inclusion of mobile hotspot functionality at no extra charge. Essentially, you can use your data on whatever¬†device — ¬†or devices — you want in any way you choose. This makes the plans very appealing by giving the consumer total control in data usage across devices.
There are no commitments for Ting and the device choices are fairly limited so far: A few smartphones, mobile hotspot devices and USB data sticks, but no tablets yet. And because there is no contract, Ting doesn’t heavily subsidize the hardware, meaning you’ll pay more for your device. But in the end, that may be a relatively small price to pay, given the freedom to share data across devices and no early termination fees.