Proper lite cell phone plans in Canada

It bugs me that people get pushed into paying ridiculous amounts for cell phone plans in Canada. It’s gotten worse too – I used to shudder at $50/month for a cell phone, now that is considered cheap! Go to the stores, or shop online, and you’ll get something put in front of your nose that is more like $70 – $80 dollars per month, with the added insult of a data cap in the 1-2GB range. You could be just fine on $30 – 45/month – but beware – cheap plans can bite you too with data overages, so read to the end and go do your own research before jumping (or not) on the cheap plan wagon.

Here is a snapshot of where we are in Alberta as of December 28, 2017, links may go dead so I’ll sum up the plan as well. I’m looking at bring your own phone (BYOP) plans presented to me in easy to find pages that offer at least 1 GB of data, with minimal voice features (calling minutes, long distance etc.) If I can’t find it easy, it wasn’t considered.

$70/month, 3GB data, 300 local minutes, I give them marks for presenting a BYOP plan right off the front plan page.

$75/month, 3GB data, 300 local minutes, and who knows on the phone. Bell wasn’t going to allow me to click on the advertised plan I had to “view plans” then navigate a TERRIBLE questionnaire form that dumped the important question what type of phone are you interested in?” off the bottom of the screen where I had to scroll to it. Even then, it tried hard to make me pick more minutes, before getting to the data part. After all that YES, THIS IS BYOP PRICE! YET – I go and try again on IE, EDGE and no questionnaire beyond the usual what province are you in? Strange, just to warn that your experience at this site may vary, grossly.

$75/month, 3GB data, 300 local minutes weekends/evenings unlimited (took me 5 minutes to figure that out as I had to go read the fine print!)

We have a tier of “budget” providers, some of which are owned by the big three listed above. Here is a sampling of their offerings:

Fido (Rogers subsidiary):
$65/month, 3GB data, unlimited Canada wide minutes

Koodo (Telus subsidiary):
$55/month, 3GB data, 500 Canada wide minutes I won’t even bother linking the plan as I’m sure it will be broken the minute I post this. They go against the current trend, and list low prices first, with pay per use data. I stopped at the first plan that had my gig of data, which also was where the BRIGHT RED highlighting started, a clue from Koodo that here is where I should start in my plan shopping 🙂

Lastly, my current carrier, Freedom Mobility (owned by Shaw Cable):
$50/month, 5GB data, unlimited Canada/USA minutes. Sounds pretty good eh? However – they have a small local network and you will be paying by the MB for any data used outside of it. More discussion on that later.

So, in digging up these numbers I see I am already swimming against the current somewhat, as I am NOT looking to buy a phone. Ideally, the carriers would like you to pay $70 dollars a month, plus an extra $10-40 per month for a phone purchased from them. At least you own the phone after two years, at which point you should be buying another phone – you know: planned obsolescence. Another point that will apply to all of these numbers is that the Canadian market is currently going through a bit of “price war” right now. I put that in quotes as it is more of a data war where they will give you extra data right now if you sign up – 2 gigs extra added on to every plan by the main carriers right now. That data cap is looking pretty arbitrary to me right now!

I’m going to leave the phone purchase out of it – for the most part carriers seem to be mostly just passing on the price of the phone – yeah, it might be inflated a bit from comparisons I have done, but deciding to get a basic Android phone over an iPhone 8 will save you WAY more money, if you are just looking at value for the dollar spent, that is the way you should go. For example, I can buy outright a 16GB Motorola Moto E4 for $200 versus an 64BG iPhone 8 for freak’n $1059. That is 5 cheap phones that will do 90% of what the iPhone will do – don’t tell me that the extra shiny of the iPhone is worth that – it is strictly a shiny bauble with a different user interface. Fine if you prefer the interface, but do you really prefer it to the tune of an extra $800? Yes, I know – you can get a shiny Samsung S8+ for similar money, same idea – if you have the money to pay for slightly nicer things or status – go nuts. But I’m here to save you money on a plan – so back to that discussion.

How can we cut back that monthly price of a cell phone? The answer is that most carriers offer cheaper plans, but you have to dig for them. You are going to have to live with a lot less data and more pay for what you use charges. It will be up to you to keep those charges down by knowing what uses data and finding alternatives, such as Wi-Fi.

I’m going to run the same list of carriers again, this time doing my best to dig through the pages and find the cheapest plan that includes at least some data, or at least a reasonable $/GB. I’ll mention any extras like voice time if included, or at least give you an idea of the pay per minute cost of voice. If all you need is voice, there are even cheaper plans (~$20) that will do that plus SMS.

I’m not going to link to them – remember the carriers bury this stuff because they don’t want you to buy it – links are going to do dead quickly if they work at all. The general rule is you are looking for “pay as you go” or “prepaid plans”, often hidden at the bottom or behind a small link on the plans page. The second tier carriers don’t bother with this payment classification system and just hide the cheap plans without trying to make it look like they are hiding them… Consider it a hunting game where the winner saves big and you’ll be less pissed off than I was trying to find this stuff.

Generally this sort of plan is not going to work for you if you just have to use more than a quarter gig (250MB) of data a month – you probably are better off with one of the budget carriers intermediate plans then. You may be able to add data at a “bulk rate” to a cheap plan that will be cheaper than going up a tier as well – comparison shop every step of the way. That being said, here we go!

$37/30 days, 0.25GB (250MB) data, $0.15/MB = $150/GB additional data, 150 local minutes, includes SMS, 3 message voice mail.

Surfing through plans, I just scrolled to the bottom and picked “Prepaid Plans”. Pretty easy here. Then scroll down again, and pick “Data, talk and text” I see a “Connect 37” plan that fit the bill. You’ll note that I am always giving you a $/GB data rate so you have an apples to apples comparison for the conversion challenged.

$30.75/month, 0.2GB (200MB) data, 0.15/MB = $150/GB additional data, 150 local minutes, includes SMS(international as well!) 5 message voice mail.

Bell is giving a deal where they will give you $5 off the quoted price for the first 8 months. Prepaid plans are buried in the plans page currently in between the basic phone plans and the tablet plans, just scroll down and find it.

$30/month, 0.25GB (250MB) data, 0.15/MB = $150/GB additional data, 50 local minutes, unlimited Canada SMS, voice mail of some sort.

Rogers puts prepaid as it’s own category off of their main wireless page. If you go into plans (which is listed to the left where you will see it before prepaid) you will NEVER find prepaid. Under prepaid, you have both “Pay As You Go” and “Plans” Just pick “Plans” to spare yourself the long explanation about why pay as you go is best thing since sliced bread.

Fido (Rogers):
$20.75/month, 0.1GB (100MB) data ($10 add on), $0.15/MB = $150/GB additional data, 50 local minutes, voice mail of some sort.
$30.75/month, 0.5GB (500MB) data ($20 add on), $0.05/MB = $50/GB additional data, rest as above.

Fido also goes and places “Prepaid” off the main menu, to the right of plans where you might just never notice it because you clicked on “Plans” and picked something more expensive there. On top of it, once you are in prepaid, they push a $45/month prepaid plan that is cheaper, but not their cheapest offering. Sneaky. On the top right of the page, under the title “Plans & Services” you need to click on “View all Prepaid Plans & Services”. NOW you see all there offerings, and STILL this $45/month for 400MB of data plan seems to be there only offering. I just about gave up at that point, but decided to see if I could add data to any of their cheap voice only plans. FINALLY, I see I can add 100 MB for $10 or 500MB for $20. So, now I have choice, so I decide to give you TWO combinations, rather than the $45/month option. The $45 option is only of interest if you want added Canada wide unlimited evening/weekend calling, and more anytime voice minutes for slightly less data. I also should state that Fido charges you minutes to access your voice mail, something I know not all carriers are doing, so “free” is not really free in this case.

Koodo (Telus):
$37/month, 0.1GB (100MB) data, $0.07/MB = $70/GB additional data, 500 Canada wide minutes, unlimited SMS, some sort of voice mail.

Where is this $37 dollar a month plan you ask? It doesn’t exist! You buy the $30/month plan, then start using data. As long as you stay under 100MB, you will pay an extra $7 dollar, getting you to $37. Go over 100MB, you get charged an extra $7, and so on… If you think you going to accidentally run wild with data once in a while you might just want to get the $45 500MB plan which is pretty generous for what you pay, and has a “shock-free” feature which (gasp!) will actually ask you if you want to pay for more data before going over 500MB! Why this option is not legally mandated to be offered on every plan in this country is beyond me.

Freedom Mobility:
$25/month, 0.25 GB (250MB) data*, unlimited Canada Wide talk.

*Additional data throttled down to 256kps or ~2MB/min – enough for some slow web surfing. This according to a doc I found. As you often will be outside the network, you need to know that AWAY data is at $0.05/MB ($50/GB), including in the USA. That is a very good deal compared to how you can get screwed on US roaming with some carriers, especially if your plan doesn’t have any US roaming included.

Being my provider, I can give you a bit more history on their web site and I have to say I’m disappointed that recently they have decided to hide their cheap plans much more thoroughly, as they now push the big data packages. They have copied the idea of Bell’s “hide it on the bottom” options, but if you have a big window, you can just see it on the bottom, or scroll down and click on “The Basics”. Now you will see the cheap plans, of which I am on “Home 30”, at $5/month more than listed here because I don’t get the sale rate that they are offering right now.

After all of this what can we say about cheap cell phone plans in Canada? What can we save? Well, we can say that it’s all way more complicated that it needs to be. I’ve tried to simplify this a bit and even I end up using a “*” because it’s too complicated to explain in the summary. I am also going to state flat out that I’ve not included all the gotchas, or worried about the fluff extras included, like every phone plan these days includes call display. Also, while it is expensive, there still is some competition. The media is say that Freedom’s “Big Gig” offers is what has spurred all of these extra data offers resulting in most “entry” plans moving from 1 GB to 3 GB. I’m hoping someone looking at this article 2 years from now will go ‘whoa, things were expensive back then’ but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

We can save a bit of money – as generalization right now, $30 for 0.25GB, $40 for 0.5GB, call it half the price for your monthly bill. BUT and that ‘but’ is a big one, you are dealing with very small amount of data for this day and age. If you like watching video on your phone and you are not absolutely vigilant about being sure you are on Wi-Fi before clicking on ‘play’, you might want to think twice, or at least go and get that $45 “shock-free” plan from Koodo to give yourself a safety net. Remember the $150/GB rates I quoted. That is ONE hour of HD video on your phone, around 4 hours of SD YouTube watching. Pretty expensive TV if you don’t know what you are doing. If you know how to set data caps on your phone, AND know you know how to keep those data needs low, yeah, go and save yourself some money.

You’ll note I’m not making specific recommendations here. If you’re more concerned about voice, I’ve only covered it in passing as I don’t need it much these days. It’s really too close to call, and offers change all the time. Not to mention the other providers I have not mentioned that might have a steal of a deal going on. Things that don’t change are that Telus = Bell as far as they share their towers. Rogers is it’s own network. Freedom is it’s own small network of towers in some of the bigger Canadian cities and south Ontario (check their network map for sure!). They have one advantage that they have agreements with both Rogers and Telus/Bell, so you should have pay per minute/MB availability over a pretty wide area with them. I can attest to this having been out in the boonies and having service when my Telus/Rogers friends did too. Things that also won’t change for the foreseeable future is that cell providers will hide their cheap plans, thus resulting in this article. Happy cheap plan hunting!

About ralph

Just another blog to share some thoughts with the world.
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