The Mobile 15: Our picks for the most innovative companies


CEO: Elliot Noss (CEO of Ting’s parent Tucows)

Number of employees: 170 (for Tucows)

The business:

Ting is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), meaning it is a carrier without a network. It resells Sprint’s(s s) voice and data services using its own unique pricing plans.

The backstory:

Ting, which used to be a web-hosting company, is one of the new generation of MVNOs to spring up over the last year, driven by the boom in new data services. It was the first virtual operator to take advantage of its partnership to the fullest, offering LTE and the latest-generation smartphones as soon as they were available.

The innovation:

On our innovation scorecard, Ting was tied with fellow MVNO Republic Wireless, though for completely different reasons. While Republic has innovated in technology (using Wi-Fi as the primary network for voice calling and data sessions), Ting’s innovations come in its approach to pricing. Ting is offering the closest thing the industry has to true metered voice and data.

Customers can sign up for different tiers of SMS, data and voice, but if they consume more than those allotments allow, Ting just shifts the customer up to the next highest tier with no penalty. Conversely if they send fewer text messages, talk less or consume less data than their tiers permit, Ting shifts their plans down to lower tiers, refunding consumers the difference in price. It may sound simple, but it’s the industry’s first attempt at creating pricing models that actually reflect the cost of supplying service. For instance Ting’s data plans cost more at the higher tiers than the big operators’ plans, but Ting’s voice and SMS services are far cheaper, which more accurately represents the true cost of delivering service on a wireless network.

The plan:

Noss admits that Ting’s approach to the mobile pricing still hasn’t achieved widespread acceptance, but attitudes toward unsubsidized phones and usage-based pricing are evolving in Ting’s favor. It plans to feed the growing minority of consumers fed up with the big carriers’ pricing models. The company declines to say how many customers it currently has.

Ting is also trying to dispel the notion that MVNOs are a form of second-class service provider, selling yesterday’s phones over yesterday’s networks. Through its partnership with Sprint, Ting already has access to one of the hottest smartphones in the market, the Samsung Galaxy S III, and it is now using Sprint’s newest network techology LTE. This fall it plans to launch the first bring-your-own-device program for CDMA handsets. The next step for Ting is to secure rights to the iPhone(s aapl).