Late last Friday, mobile carrier (and Sprint MVNO) RingPlus sent a notice to subscribers indicating service would be shut off on Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. PT. If you're one of those subscribers, you're probably scrambling to figure out what to do next.
RingPlus promises that all customers will have the option of migrating directly to former rival Ting during the next 1-2 weeks.
"Each member will start with a $35 credit, regardless of whether they have any RingPlus Top Up balance! Those members who have a RingPlus Top Up balance higher than $35 will get the first $35 applied in full. Afterwards, the remaining Top Up balance (over $35) will be disbursed in $5 credit increments each month until the Top Up is exhausted," the company said.
You can find out more at the newly created ringtoting.com.
Whatever you decide, it's time to start shopping for a new carrier. If you don't make a change before service terminates on Saturday, you'll lose your phone number. Fortunately, it's a simple matter to port that number elsewhere, though the process can sometimes take a day or two -- all the more reason to make your move now.
How to know where to go
When you moved to RingPlus, you most likely brought an unlocked, Sprint-compatible phone. (It's also possible you brought an iPhone 6 ($200 at eBay) from AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon, or a Nexus 5/6 -- all models that can operate on CDMA networks.)
That means you need to take your phone to a compatible carrier. If it's a Sprint model, look for other Sprint MVNOs (or even Sprint itself). If it's one of the aforementioned iPhones or Nexuses, you have a lot more options, because they can run on GSM networks as well.
For purposes of this post, I'll be looking primarily at Sprint-based alternatives, as I suspect the bulk of RingPlus users will need one. But there's a harsh reality to face, here: With one possible exception, you're not going to find totally free service.
Here are some options:
Take a dash of RingPlus and a pinch of Freedompop (see below) and you get CellNuvo, the only other service to offer a totally free plan -- though with a few limitations, of course.
For starters, although the company's home page indicates support for both Android phones and iPhones, a company rep told me the latter aren't currently supported. Sure enough, when I checked the IMEI number for an iPhone that's currently on RingPlus, CellNuvo's system wouldn't accept it.
The Sprint-powered service, which launched in 2015, offers two plans: Infinite and Flex, priced at $0 and $19 per month, respectively. Both are based on credits: Infinite gives you 2,500 each month; Flex, 5,000. A text message uses one credit. A minute of calling uses 10 credits, as does each megabyte of 4G LTE data.
So, brass tacks: If you're just looking at the data side of it, the free plan gives you 250MB per month -- not much, obviously. But there are ways to earn additional credits, and customers coming from RingPlus can apply coupon code RPFree at checkout to get bonus starter credits and free activation (normally $29).
Google's free phone service, which recently received some much-needed updates, might be the perfect place to "park" your number -- though keep in mind you'll still need to find a carrier for data, messaging and traditional cell service.
If you already have a Google Voice number, you can replace it with your RingPlus mobile number. If you don't, just set up a new Google Voice account (or even a brand new Google account, solely for this purpose) and port your RingPlus number as part of the process.
Either way, it'll cost you $20. But that's a one-time cost; there are no additional charges to use GV unless you're making calls outside the US or Canada.
What's nice about Google Voice is that it can automatically forward incoming calls to just about any other number. When you switch to another carrier, you don't necessarily have to port your number out of GV; you can leave it there and just have calls forwarded to whatever new number is assigned by your new carrier. Speaking of which, that new number can now serve as a second number on your mobile phone. Perk!
If you're looking for a totally free replacement for RingPlus (which, depending on the plan you had, might have been totally free for you), the only real option is Freedompop -- but for a few reasons it's not a good one.
It, too, is a Sprint-based MVNO, one that's been around a lot longer than RingPlus and has obviously figured out how to make the free-service model work. However, its basic plan limits you to 500 voice minutes, 200 text messages and 500MB of data per month -- far short of most of the free plans offered by RingPlus.
Also, although Freedompop charges only $9.99 to port a number, it won't accept numbers from RingPlus or Google Voice. So you'll have no choice but to start with a new one.
Finally, as the Cheapskate, I get more complaints about Freedompop than just about any other company. Readers tend to be unhappy with both customer service and the service itself (specifically coverage and call quality). So although I wanted to make you aware of the option, I would suggest looking elsewhere.
At one time the low-cost carrier, Republic Wireless was the first to really leverage the idea of money-saving Wi-Fi calling. Alas, Republic's rates no longer seem quite as amazing, and the service is currently compatible with only 16 phones (all of them Android models -- sorry, iPhone users), but it's still worth a look as you weigh your migration options.
Especially considering that Republic just offered RingPlus users a $50 credit for switching, which could cover your first couple months of service, depending on the plan you choose. Just take note that you'll need to order a SIM card ($5) for your phone, assuming it's compatible. What's more, Republic still relies on Wi-Fi for calling, switching to cell towers only when a hotspot isn't available. That might prove a huge plus if you live in a coverage-challenged area (few or no bars inside your house, for example, but in my experience, Wi-Fi call quality is hit and miss.
Another mobile disruptor, this one famed for its excellent customer service, Ting is already welcoming RingPlus refugees with open arms. There's no charge to port your number, though Ting does note that the process could take a couple days.
Ting is best known for its usage-based rates, which effectively customize your service plan based on your monthly consumption of voice minutes, text messages and data.
This may work in your favor, but it may not: A user who consumes 500 minutes, 1,000 texts and just 2GB of data will pay $40 per month. There are definitely cheaper options out there.
TextNow is another Sprint MVNO, with plans starting at $13.99 per month. The company doesn't charge a fee to port your number, and numbers from RingPlus can be ported.
A TextNow representative informed me that "TextNow will be porting numbers within 1-3 business days to ensure [RingPlus customers] don't lose their numbers."
However, TextNow "strongly recommends" purchasing one of its own phones instead of bringing your own, largely because of its reliance on voice-over-IP calls. The company's own handsets have been specially configured to better take advantage of that technology.
Based on my perusal of a Reddit thread devoted to the RingPlus/Sprint lawsuit, many customers are moving to Tello -- a Ting-like provider that lets you craft your own service plan. The company's support page has already been updated to help RingPlus users make the move. There's no fee for porting your number and no activation charge.
Tello is another newcomer, though, not even a year old yet. Consequently, it's natural to feel a little gun-shy, especially given that its rates are merely competitive. For example, unlimited minutes and messages and 3GB of data will cost you $43 monthly for the first three months, then $49 after that. Contrast that with Sprint proper, which offers unlimited everything for $50 per month.
Tello has also extended a special offer to RingPlus customers: 50 percent off your first order when you apply coupon code RINGPLUS50 at checkout.
As I noted earlier, the type of phone you have will dictate where you can take it for service. If it's tied to Sprint, check out this list of MVNOs, making sure to focus on those that support CDMA technology. Just be prepared for sticker shock, because there are few carriers that come anywhere near to matching what RingPlus offered.
As an aside, if you hitched your phone wagon to RingPlus on my recommendation, I do apologize for this turn of events. It's the old adage writ large: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I'm especially saddened for those who paid a hefty "Member+" membership fee, though I suspect that if you amortize it out over the months you got free service, you still ended up with a good deal. Small comfort, I know.
If you've found or know of a good substitute for RingPlus, please do share it in the comments.
Update, February 8: Added statements from RingPlus and various other companies.