Virtual carrier Ting gets its first LTE phone, the Galaxy S III

Just three weeks after launching LTE, Sprint is opening up the new 4G network to its mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) partners. Ting will begin offering the Samsung Galaxy S III to its customers in the coming weeks, and not just as a 3G-only device.

Ting, which is owned by webhosting company Tucows, has started taking pre-orders for the device and will begin shipping them to customers in three to six weeks. That Ting is getting LTE phones is no surprise – Ting revealed it would back in April. What’s surprising is that it’s happening so soon and that Ting gets immediate access to such a high-profile device. The S III has only been available on Sprint’s network for only a month.

MVNOs pay network operators wholesale rates for voice and data, which they then offer to consumers usually at big discounts over the big carriers. But MVNOs also have to agree to contract stipulations that prevent them from venturing too far onto their partners’ turf. Typically that means reserving newer network technologies and also a restriction on what devices an MVNO can sell. For instance, AT&T(s t) won’t let any of its resellers offer a device currently in its portfolio. And with the exception of Sprint, no carrier is giving their MVNOs to their newest, fastest networks.

Sprint, however, has aggressively courted MVNOs, even going so far as to create a build-your-own-MVNO kit, which allows new virtual operators to come online as quickly as possible. In a recent interview with GigaOM, Tucows CEO Elliot Noss said Sprint is well ahead of any other U.S. operator when it comes to its wholesale policies, which ultimately led Ting to select the operator. “Our view on AT&T(s t) and Verizon(s vz)(s vod) is that they come to wholesale very begrudgingly and they will do only as much as the market forces them to,” Noss said.

Ting will offer the phone without a subsidy, meaning customers will have to fork over the full $529 retail price for the 16 GB version and $579 for the 32 GB version. But customers will likely be more than compensated for that upfront investment through Ting’s innovative pricing plans.

Ting flouts the typical carrier billing model by not requiring customers to commit to specific buckets of voice, text and data each month. Customers do sign up for tiers of minutes, SMS and data, but if they use less than their plans’ allotments in a given month, Ting credits them for the unused portions on their next bills. According to Noss, Ting’s savviest customers merely select zero in all three categories and just pay for what they consume each month.