Mar 05 2007
As I’ve complained about in the past, one of my pet peeves about the Canadian cellular providers is the lack of competition, and the high prices that result from such - especially when it comes to the cost of mobile data.
My interest in this topic results from my unhealthy addiction to constant net connectivity. I quite enjoy owning a device that allows me to connect to the web, stay on top of my email, and do other things that requires the internet - anytime, and anywhere.
Yes, I’m addicted, and I’m willing to admit it. I may even brag about it to some.
My current device feeds my addiction for only $20 per month, but the device (and associated plan) was recently discontinued, and replaced by the following nightmarish data plans instead. I’m grandfathered for as long as my hardware lasts, but I know eventually I will have no choice but to “upgrade” to a new device, and with it, a new data plan.
For reasons you will soon see, I’m not looking forward to the day.
Although voice plans have become more competitive over the years due to some amount of pressure amongst carriers to keep up with each other, what has steadfastly remained a huge rip-off on the Canadian side of the border is mobile data.
I define mobile data as internet access in a mobile environment - the most common being a PDA (Blackberry, Treo), or a notebook using a cellular wireless card.
I thought I’d sit down recently and do a (entirely unscientific or professional) price comparison of available data options here, and then compare that to the USA.
The rip-off we are enduring quickly becomes evident.
This post amounts to a huge rant and was written over the period of a month or two. I’ve sat down at various points in time, gotten upset about the subject all over again, and angrily typed some more. It has languished in my drafts folder for far too long, so polished or not (and it’s not), it was time to publish this post.
Most information here is factual based upon the best information available at the time I was pissed off. It’s all based on reality, though - as frustrating as it is.
It’s possible that some plans have changed slightly since I captured most of the following screen shots, but I doubt any changes were terribly significant.
Your mileage may vary, take at your own risk, no warranties expressed or implied, side effects may vary, wash, rinse, repeat, wipe hands on pants.
Read more if you wish, but if your not interested in this subject as a whole you may want to just skip this blog entry, if you haven’t stopped reading already…
In Canada, we have four major cellular carriers in Canada - Bell, Fido, Rogers, and Telus.
Fido is owned by Rogers despite the fact that they maintain separate identities as far as the consumer is concerned. Their prices are becoming increasingly similar despite some continued differences.
I’ll keep the comparisons simplistic - I’ll show the costs from the various carriers here, add some witty (and not so witty) comments, and then post the available USA options afterwards. No “Per Kilobyte” breakdowns or technical calculations of the differences between carriers - the differences between Canada and the USA are so dramatically different that the differences are clear and the deficiencies here are laughable.
For anyone from the USA reading this, you’ll probably see my issue after you see the first few images below..
For any Canadians who don’t know better, perhaps this will be an enlightening topic.
I personally use about 75 too 125 megs of mobile data myself each and every month, so I’ll base my opinions based on the requirement of at least 100 megs.
Fido does not offer *any* PDA data solution at this point (not even the Blackberry) so this is pure notebook based data using their PCMCIA data card.
[EDIT: Fido introduced the Nokia E61 recently as well as Blackberry support, however the data rates for such remain the same as those quoted before.)
So, $60 for 25 megs, or $100 for 200 megs. We need at least 100 megs, so we are looking at $100 per month.
Fido used to have a mobile data device that offered unlimited data for only $20 per month. They also used to offer unlimited notebook data via a PCMCIA card for only $50 per month. Not surprisingly, money hungry Rogers (the now parent company since a takeover a year or so back) has killed both of these options.
Want another kick while your down? Read the fine print - if you don't subscribe to a minute plan along with their data plans, you get charged another $6.95 "access fee".
Not the worst gouge of all the carriers, but expensive.
Rogers offers a variety of mobile data solutions - notebook connectivity, and Blackberry / Treo solutions. Rogers doesn't even classify mobile data as a consumer level service, so you can only find any mention of it on the business portion of their website.
First, Blackberry and voice packages.
$95 for 350 minutes and 50 megs of data? Not a deal.
Blackberry data only? (No voice minutes whatsoever)
Ok, assuming a reasonable data usage of 100 megs per month minimum, this would require me to subscribe to the $100 plan.
Only a few months back Rogers used to advertise an "Unlimited" data plan for $100, however when you read the fine print "Unlimited" was actually only 25 megs. They had the gall to put a disclaimer that "Data usage beyond 25 megabytes per month is considered abusive" and then quoted some asinine per meg data rate (I believe it was $7 per extra megabyte) for usage beyond 25 megs.
Either through ridicule or (more likely) irate customers, I see they have reworded it, as per the above screenshot.
I also see they have increased the data to a more reasonable 200 megabytes for the $100 plan.
But why is it still $100?
Do you want just mobile data on your Laptop?
The plans are similar to the new Blackberry plans, but it’s not clearly mentioned if any proprietary compression schemes are in place to control bandwidth use.
For anyone seriously using the internet, we can all agree that on a notebook 200 megabytes is a minuscule amount, even if you are just dealing with email and visiting a few sparse websites each day.
So, you don’t want a Blackberry specifically, but don’t want to carry your notebook either?
Well, Rogers offers some alternative all-in-one’s. The Treo and Ipaq are two notables.
However, what will the data cost there?
Well, the Rogers website isn’t terribly clear on what plan is actually designed for these devices, but after digging and interpreting the wording of the multitude of data plans listed, this seems like the plans aimed at these devices:
Confusingly, it seems like if you want to use a device other then the Blackberry, your going to pay a serious premium - $90.00 for the “Max” plan, which includes a ridiculously low 25 megabytes of data per month.
I’m sure there’s nothing quite like owning a powerful device like a Treo, and then having to count every kilobyte in order to avoid the asinine $5 Per Megabyte overages charges.
Enough with Rogers.
Bell mobility, a subsidiary of the national telephone carrier Bell Canada, is the main competitor to Rogers.
Much like Rogers, Bell offers a confusing multitude of different data related plans. Some plans include voice minutes, some do not. Some are for the Blackberry only, and some are strictly for the Treo or PPC options.
There are far too many options available to list here. It’s downright confusing. Why is data not just data, plain and simple?
To avoid the confusion, lets deal with strictly a Blackberry, and my earlier statement of needing at least 100 megs per month.
Once again, if you want a “Combo” plan with minutes included on your blackberry, the prices for the data somehow change - you get less for more.
The voice and data options:
$90 for 350 talk minutes and a mere 30 megs of data?
Blackberry data only?
So, $60 for 30 megs, but $100 gets you 250?
250 megs for $100 - a better deal then Rogers…but is it a deal?
Hardly - wait untill you see the US data rates.
To summarize the rest of the data options with Bell, no matter if you use a Blackberry, Treo, or a notebook with a data card, they are priced very similar.
Unlike Rogers which charges much more for data on some devices versus others, at least Bell seems to think that it shouldn’t matter what device you use - a kilobyte is a kilobyte.
Still no deals, though, but a significant improvement from either Rogers or Fido.
Telus is much larger in Western Canada then they are elsewhere, but in a cellular aspect they are a player, especially with their push-to-talk “Mike” handsets which are extremely popular with businesses.
From a strictly data standpoint, you can get a signifigant amount of data for a comparable price to the other carriers:
(There is a $60 plan, but as with all the other carriers it includes a useless amount of data - only 30 megabytes).
But once again if you want to mix minutes with your data, Telus (much like both Rogers and Bell) suddenly seems to think that you no longer need much data:
Every single “minutes and data” plan (including this $155 per month plan) includes only 25 megabytes of data.
Need laptop data?
250 megs for $100 - look familiar? Again, if you were actually using your laptop like you do at home and surf freely, 256 megs isn’t going to last a month.
As you can see they also offer a one gigabyte plan for $375.
More useful for someone using a laptop, but again, you would still need to surf carefully to make that last an entire month when you compare it to how much people use while surfing freely at home.
So, we’ve covered Canada.
There are more cellular carriers in Canada, but most of them are regional carriers that only cover some areas of the country. Regardless, with no exceptions that I know of, the data rates for their cellular offerings virtually fall inline with the rates from the carriers shown above.
Let’s look at the USA. For the purposes of my example I’ll use T-Mobile, Cingular, and Sprint - three carriers that I frequently see television commercials for here in Canada.
The first thing I always notice is that mobile data in the USA is considered a consumer level service - it’s not hidden away in the “business” portion of the website, leaving the “consumer” with nothing.
Mobile data in the USA is a widespread service available to everyone at a reasonable cost, not just corporate professionals who can afford it as is the case here in Canada.
Strictly unlimited data? A mere $29.00!
1000 talk minutes and unlimited data for only $59!
Add an extra 500 minutes for only $20 more - $79.99.
Need your laptop for data on T-Mobile?
Unlimited for only $49!
Blackberry data only:
Not as good of a deal as T-Mobile, but once again compared to Canadian rates, $34.99 for unlimited data is a steal!
Are you a smartphone user? (Treo, iPaq, etc)
$19.99 - Unlimited. Add any minute plan you want to this at rates much lower then anything in Canada.
Tell me again why on the Rogers network 25 megs of data (and a mere 350 minutes of talk time) costs $90?
Want laptop data on the Cingular network?
Telus wants $375 Canadian for one gigabyte. Rogers wants $100 for 200 megs.
Cingular? $79 for as much as you want. Only $59 if you subscribe to a minute plan along with it.
Any Canadians out there starting to feel sick about this yet?
I know I am.
Based on their website, Sprint doesn’t seem to offer any smartphones like the Blackberry on the consumer side of their website, but they do offer mobile laptop data for consumers:
I’m going to stop here despite the fact that I could go on about this for hours.
The facts are clear - mobile data here in Canada is simply unrealistically priced, and until the carriers clue in to this fact and providing pricing more along the lines of what is available in the USA, it will continue to stifle their own growth.
….and people like me (and others) will continue to grumble about it.