With Galaxy S III, startup carrier Ting goes live on Sprint's LTE network

The mobile virtual network operator is now shipping Samsung's LTE phone for use with its service

Mobile startup Ting, which delivers its voice, text and data offerings over Sprint Nextel's network, has become the newest LTE service provider by shipping its first device that uses the fast 4G technology.

Ting is now shipping Samsung Galaxy S III LTE phones, according to a post Friday on the carrier's official blog. The phones began shipping Wednesday, said Scott Allan, director of Ting. The Galaxy S III is the first LTE-capable device from Ting, which up until now has been delivering CDMA, EV-DO and WiMax service through Sprint. LTE brings faster data speeds for subscribers, while also helping Sprint support its partner's services because of high spectral efficiency.

Sprint has been a leader in the U.S. in supporting MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators), third parties such as Ting that resell a larger carrier's capacity. MVNOs typically offer different and less expensive service plans, though some have differentiated themselves through themed phones and services, with varying success.

Sprint's LTE launch last month opened the door to what could be a variety of MVNOs offering the fast service. Sprint has emphasized partnerships with other carriers to share in its Network Vision infrastructure, including a now-defunct arrangement with LightSquared. The Sprint network is just getting started, however: It launched in 15 cities in mid-July and has grown to 19, with Sprint planning to have the system fully rolled out by the end of next year. Sprint says the network can deliver speeds of about 6Mbps (bits per second) to 8Mbps downstream, and 2Mbps to 3Mbps upstream.

Ting offers separate voice, messaging and data plans that all can be shared among multiple devices, each of which costs US$6 to add to the plan. The company promotes the plans as cheaper than some alternatives and offers a "Savings Calculator" on its site. Subscribers can mix and match differently sized plans for each type of service, and if they go over the limit of a plan they are bumped up to the next size, with no penalty. When their use falls below the plan they've chosen, Ting refunds the difference between the two rates.

Unlike conventional carriers, Ting only sells its handsets without subsidies and doesn't put subscribers under term contracts. Its phones range in price from $70 for the Kyocera Brio feature phone to $579 for the 32GB version of the Galaxy S III. The 16GB version costs $529.

The company is also advertising two other LTE-capable devices: the Motorola Photon Q, which it estimates will ship in six to eight weeks, and the HTC EVO 4G LTE, with a two- to three-week estimate. Ting also still sells the Galaxy S II 4G and two data-only modems for Sprint's 4G WiMax network, which is slower but more extensive than the LTE system. In the fourth quarter, Ting subscribers will also be able to bring over some of their own devices, as long as they can work on Sprint's network.

Ting was founded by Tucows, a longtime domain-name and Internet services company, and went live in February.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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