Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cell/mobile phones in Canada are a rip-off, and yet I still have one

I got a pre-paid (or "pay and talk/pay as you go" if you prefer) cell phone set up here the other week, and after having had the same in the UK I must say that phones are a gip over here.

I went with the provider Rogers because I have a GSM phone, i.e. one that takes a SIM card. I learned only while hunting around for a provider that the two other major ones around here, Aliant (owned by Bell) and Telus, don't do GSM phones but use CDMA instead, not that I really know much what that's about. Apparently the sales people don't either - when I asked the girl at Telus on the price for a SIM card, she thought I meant a phone card, and then said "oh, you mean like a Rogers phone?"

(I'll let someone who knows what they're talking about explain the difference between GSM and CDMA)

CDMA does seem to make it easier for providers to keep you stuck with them, as you can't just pull your SIM card out of your phone and stick in a new one. I had a CDMA phone when I was in Alberta with Bell on a contract, and then when I moved down to the Maritimes I got it switched to Aliant since they're same company but it took the fellas in the store one hell of a long time to get it so the phone could work on Aliant.

GSM phones can of course come locked in the UK, but you can buy them unlocked (both phones I bought were unlocked from the get-go) and you can unlock locked ones. When I just searched "GSM phones" on Google, I got hits for Canadian sites selling unlocked phones. I didn't get any hits for that when I searched "CDMA phones", although I did find this CBC article talking about it not really being worthwhile to unlock them.

Then there's the expiration of phone credit. In the UK, I could top up my phone with any amount of credit I wanted (I usually did it 10 pounds at at time, but really if I wanted to just put on a few pounds I could) and it never expired as far as I knew (maybe if you don't use your phone for ages, I don't know). Here, you have to buy vouchers for certain amounts, often the lowest is $10. And the credit will expire, generally after a month, unless you put more credit on your account. For example, I bought $10 credit to start with, and it expires on August 11. If I haven't used all that 10 bucks up by then, I will lose it unless I top up my account, and the minimum top-up is $10. Buddy at Rogers did tell me that if you put $100 on, it won't expire for a year so there is a partial way around that but it requires a big expenditure up front.

Not only does credit expire, but the amount of credit you buy determines the rate plan you're on. The bigger the top-up you buy, the cheaper the per-minute rate is. In the UK, my rate plan was the same no matter how much credit I bought.

Then there's the fact that many providers charge people to receive text messages, not just to send them. That's just ridiculous in my mind, because you can't control if you're sent a text message by someone else. It might even be someone you don't know sending it, there are such things as wrong numbers.

With Canadian cell phones you also pay for incoming calls, so if you're talking on your phone you're paying for the airtime even if you didn't make the call. In the UK you only pay for your outgoing calls on mobile phones, but then the billing system is also different for land-line phones over there so that's all intertwined (if you call a mobile on a land-line, you pay a different rate than calling a land-line).

Then there's the neat feature of UK mobile phones that there's no such thing as being on roaming while you're in the country, because mobile phones have their own area codes. Canadian cell phones are tied to a regional area code, my cell phone's area code is 902 just the same as land-lines in PEI (and Nova Scotia), but I wouldn't even get away with travelling everywhere in the area code without ending up roaming - I'm tied the Charlottetown and surrounding region (Of course, Canada is a lot larger than the UK, so having some roaming within the country could be sensible. However, PEI and the Maritimes are not larger than the UK, and yet you can be roaming on your phone within the same area code.)

I was writing this last night and a pertinent report was on Compass (the CBC PEI supper-hour TV news) about how Canadians lag behind the rest of the developped world in cell/mobile phone use. Only about 66-69% (depends on which article you read) of adult Canadians have cell phones, with many saying they do not plan to get one, whereas 90% of Yanks the same age have cells and 97% of people in the UK have mobile phones. The CBC reporter attributed the difference to the expense of cell phones in Canada and the low cost of land-lines compared to other countries. The Globe and Mail wrote about the same survey, as did many other papers with links to articles here.

Anyway, the short of it is the only way to protest the high cost of cell phones is to not have one. Of course, given I don't talk on my phone a whole lot, it's actually cheaper for me to have a cell phone compared to the cost of a land-line phone here. But I don't like it.


Anonymous said...

thanks buddy,canadian wireless companies sucks.they charge for incoming and even for receiving texts....thats really like they are out of this world.even the developing or poor countries dont charge for incoming and noone in rest of world charge for receiving messages.

Anonymous said...

i agree.. what a rip.. theres no cell phone plan out there thats cheaper than my $40 /month landline bill. and given that most cell phone convos u hear are inane " im on the bus" " i'll be home in a few minutes" it seems to me really a waste of money. most people use cellphones to " over communicate" well have fun paying for it. Canadians get jacked for alot of things because we dont protest and we are anxious to appear like weve 'got it all'.
my way pf protest for these hidden fees, ridiculous plans and complicated pricing is not to have one...