In March of this year, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) reported that almost 95 per cent of all wireless customers in Canada subscribed to the big three wireless companies – Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility, Rogers Wireless or their junior brands, Solo, Virgin, Koodo and Fido – for their wireless service.
For consumers, this triopoly of wireless service in Canada has meant high prices, as confirmed by multiple international surveys, onerous contracts and a limited number of service options.
The good news is that several newcomers have arrived in the last two years in Canada's major cities who are now offering lower-priced and more feature-rich wireless voice, text and data service. If you are like most of the big three's 23.5 million subscribers, you're probably locked into a two or three year contract so you may not appreciate how much you might be able to save you on your wireless phone bill.
For example, I recently switched from Rogers Wireless to a new wireless company and am now saving over $30 a month plus taxes on my voice, text and data plan. In addition to saving over $400 per year, my new plan offers me more minutes, more data, and best of all, no contract.
If you are one of the approximately 8 million Canadians whose wireless contract ends this year then it's time for you to check out the new competition.
Who are these new wireless competitors and where do they offer service?
Mobilicity has rolled out service in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. Public Mobile offers service in Toronto and Montreal while Wind Mobile offers plans in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Kitchener/Waterloo and Toronto. Next year, you'll be able to add Eastlink to the list when they launch service in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
What do they offer?
A complete overview of what the companies are offering is beyond the scope of this article. However, here is a sample of what two of the most popular and most recommended new companies Mobilicity and Wind Mobile are charging their customers.
Mobilicity offers three calling plans beginning at $25 per month. The $25 plan includes unlimited local calling, unlimited text and picture messaging, caller ID, and unlimited calling to other Mobilicity customers. The $35 plan adds on Voice Mail, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, 3 Way Calling and province wide long distance. The $45 plan offers everything in the $35 plan plus Canadian and U.S. long distance and Global text messaging. An Unlimited Internet access plan is also available for $20 a month if you also subscribe to a voice plan.
If you compare the Mobilicity plans with plans from the big three, you'll quickly realize you can save a ton of money whether you use just a regular wireless phone or a smartphone.
In addition to cheaper plans, Mobilicity also offers additional ways to save including Family Plans and a multi-month option which gives a 20 to 30 per cent discount by pre-paying for twelve months. For example, you can pay $240 for a whole year of the $25 a month plan.
Wind Mobile also offers excellent pricing on plans. While Wind's prices aren't quite as cheap as Mobilicity, they offer a larger service area which has resulted in Wind signing up more than 250,000 Canadian subscribers since they began offering services.
Wind is now offering Unlimited Voice, Text and Data plus voicemail for $29 a month for 12 months, after which the price increases to $45 per month. Even after the increase, the $45 per month plan is still less than half of what you'd pay with the big three for anything similar.
On the hardware side, Wind Mobile and Mobilicity offer a good selection of the latest Blackberry and Android Smartphones although if you have to have an Apple iPhone, you will need to stick with the big three.
Can I keep my same number?
In past years, Canadian consumers were reluctant to switch wireless phone providers because they would have to give up their phone number and potentially lose important calls from distant friends, family or business associates. This barrier has been eliminated by the CRTC so it is now possible to keep your wireless phone number when changing providers provided you don't cancel your phone service before signing up with your new provider.
The important thing to remember is to sign up with your new provider and have them perform the transfer. If you cancel your service with your old provider before the switch, your number will be lost.
What if I don't like my new provider?
Perhaps the best thing about many of the new providers is you don't have to sign up to a bundle and you don't have to sign a contract. With Public Mobile, Mobilicity and Wind Mobile there are no contracts so you can cancel without having to pay a "termination" fee.
Cancelling a Rogers Wireless contract six, 12 or 18 months into a three year contract could mean financial penalties of up to $500. If you've bundled your wireless service with your cable or internet, the penalties could be even higher! Everyday Canadians in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Kitchener/Waterloo, Mississauga, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and much of Quebec are signing up for wireless service from new wireless companies and dramatically reducing their monthly bill.
If you are one of the estimated 8 million Canadians whose contract expires this year, then you owe it to yourself to check them out.
Hugh Thompson is the owner and publisher of Hugh Thompson's Digital Home , a consumer electronics news and information website. As a voice for the Canadian consumer, Hugh is a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country discussing the latest in consumer electronics and the business of convergence in the Digital Home.