Hugh Pickens writes "In the past, carriers like Sprint have placed restrictions on their Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) to prevent them from competing directly against the carriers. The MVNOs were forced to sell budget service and budget technology. But Businessweek reports that the Galaxy S III has began shipping to customers of MVNO Ting, officially making Ting the first carrier to offer an LTE service without owning an LTE network. 'All the market trends we're talking about today are allowing us to be competitive at the high end,' says Elliot Noss, CEO of Ting, adding that Sprint has stripped off the last remaining obstacles to MVNOs competing with it on equal terms. Virtual carriers are experimenting with new pricing models, such as Ting's metered voice and data plans, that run counter to the way big operators have always sold their services. So far, only a minority of customers finds these new types of models appealing, but it's a growing minority, says Noss. MVNOs all but died out in the last decade, victim to their own over-segmentation of the market and the only survivors were the ones who kept their focus on the budget prepaid segment like TracFone. But nine months ago, AT&T and T-Mobile started selling data and voice airtime by the bucket, which gives MVNOs much more flexibility in pricing. Even more significantly, carriers started working directly with MVNOs to craft unique plans in exchange for a percentage of the plans' revenues. In the meantime, prepaid operators such as Leap Wireless are already selling the iPhone, and it's only a matter of time before the economics are right for Sprint to lift its iPhone restriction as well. 'I'll put it this way: I would be disappointed if we didn't have the iPhone by next summer,' says Noss. 'That kind of holdback of iconic devices is beginning to make less and less [business] sense.'"