If you've opened a newspaper or turned on a radio in the past month or two, you've probably caught the barrage of ads bought by Canada's big wireless companies ominously warning about the perils of a potential move by U.S. giant Verizon up north.
The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association industry group also bought ads suggesting that consumers wouldn't benefit from an American competitor opening shop here. The ads quoted two independent reports that claim our prices are lower than what consumers pay in the United States.
"Wireless rates in Canada are typically lower than in the U.S., in some cases up to 40 per cent lower and smartphone monthly plans are actually less expensive in Canada than in the U.S.," read the ads.
Bell, Rogers and Telus got good news on Sunday, when Verizon said it currently has no interest in moving to Canada.
But are the claims of low Canadian prices true? The Canadian Press compared the prices currently being promoted by the larger mobile providers on both sides of the border to see how the numbers stacked up. The comparison omits pre-paid packages and does not account for activation costs and other fees, which are sometimes waived by promotions. But keep in mind many carriers do charge $35 as a setup fee, which amortizes to just under $1.50 a month on a two-year contract. All prices are before taxes.
It may be difficult for Web-obsessed users to imagine, but some consumers still see their mobile device as a telephone first. For them, the cheapest rate offered by both Rogers and Bell is $30 for 200 minutes of talk time. In the U.S., it doesn't get cheaper than $40 for a basic voice plan.
CHEAPEST DATA PACKAGE
It'll cost you at least $45 to $50 to get a package that includes an allotment of megabytes to use for mobile Web browsing, with Bell currently offering the best deal: 150 minutes of talk time and 400 megabytes of Internet activity for $45. U.S. pricing is no cheaper, although T-Mobile offers a plan for just $5 more that includes unlimited calling and 500 megabytes of data.
UNLIMITED CALLING, TWO GIGABYTES OF DATA
Here, Americans get a better deal. Bell and Rogers have promotions at this tier for $75 a month. A similar plan with T-Mobile in the U.S. is $60 and it comes with 2.5 gigabytes of data.
ALL-YOU-CAN-DOWNLOAD DATA PLAN
The U.S. companies win this one by default, since Bell, Rogers and Telus don't offer unlimited data plans. T-Mobile charges $70 for unlimited calls and data while Sprint bills $80 for that plan. Meanwhile, a Bell promo is currently offering unlimited calling and six gigabytes of data for $105.
Most mobile carriers are encouraging consumers to round up their family members on a single bill to get group savings. With Rogers, for example, two users can get unlimited calling and share an allotment of six gigabytes at a cost of $80 each. If three users are on the same plan sharing those six gigabytes, the price drops to about $72 each. In the U.S. with Sprint and T-Mobile, unlimited data and calling for two users on a shared account is $75 each. It's just $50 apiece for three users on T-Mobile.
WHAT'S VERIZON'S BEST DEAL?
More competition is always a good thing but there's not much about Verizon's current pricing down south to really get Canadian consumers excited — even if the company was interested in moving here. Verizon is heavily pushing the shared-plan concept, to the detriment of individual customers. The cheapest voice and data plan is $80 for unlimited calling and 500 megabytes to surf with. Rogers and Bell are currently charging $60 for the same package. The shared plans offer better value, especially with three or more users on the same account, but are still pretty close to Canadian pricing.
SO WHO'S GOT THE BETTER PRICES?
There is no definitive answer as to whether there's better mobile pricing in Canada or the U.S.; consumers in both countries win some and lose some. We get the best deals on cheaper, low-end plans. Consumers who are willing to give the smaller mobile providers a shot in some cases they're owned by the big three mobile companies anyway can sometimes find better pricing with those upstarts. But Americans do seem to enjoy more economical access to the mobile Web and can burn through gigabytes at a lower cost.