The High Cost of Canadian Wireless

The National Post featured a revealing article on the weekend featuring comments from both RIM and Google about the high prices associated with Canadian wireless services, particularly the cost of the data.  The numbers in the article point out that Canada is not even close to being competitive with countries around in the world on data prices, which hurts Blackberry sales and reduces the use of mobile services when compared to other countries.

Another revealing comparison comes for those Canadians dreaming about an Apple iPhone.  In the U.S., the AT&T iPhone plan offers 450 anytime minutes (unused minutes can be rolled over to the next month), 5000 additional night and weekend minutes, and unlimited data for $59.99.  If/when the iPhone makes its way to Canada, Rogers will be the sole carrier given the absence of any competition for GSM services (unless Apple decides to wait for a much-needed fourth carrier following a set-aside for the 2008 spectrum auction, but that is a long time to wait without a guarantee of a set-aside). A comparable plan for Rogers today costs:

  • 500 minutes (Canada-wide, no rollover) – $60
  • 500 additional evening and weekend minutes – $25
  • 500 MB of data (no unlimited data offered) – $210

In other words, a plan from Rogers (Rogers plan in C$, AT&T in US$ but currencies now nearly at par) that offers less than AT&T – the Canadian version does not have unlimited data, does not offer rolled over minutes, and has only 10 percent of the night and weekend minutes – currently runs $295 per month (there is a Blackberry data plan that offers 200 MB for $100 with a three year contract but each additional MB costs $5).  The barrier to the iPhone in Canada is not Apple.  Rather, it is the lack of wireless competition that, as now RIM and Google both note, leads to pricing that places Canadians at a significant disadvantage compared with other developed countries.  Is it any wonder there is a petition calling on Rogers to introduce a more competitive iPhone data plan?

Update: The National Post covers this issue with a direct reference to this posting. 


  1. Canadian
    Ridiculous cell rates, ridiculous magazine subscription rates, and basically zero cable tv competition. Perhaps the ‘defending Canadian values’ mandate of the CRTC has nothing to do with average Canadians, and everything to do with protecting the few rich Canadians running these companies.

  2. Vincent Clement says:

    I keep reading that more and more Canadians – especially those near the US border – buy their cellphone in the US with an North American plan. Seems to be cheaper than buying the phone in Canada. Pretty sad.

  3. cell phone plans
    One of the most sad things about all of this as well is that it is clearly due to the lack of competition. Every single wireless provider in Canada once offered unlimited data plans and each one has been pulled. What we need is a fourth (at least) provider fast. Or maybe the CRTC could actually follow its mandate and defend Canadian values of being able to afford communication?

  4. Canadians seem to pay more for pretty much everything. The Canadian dollar has been rising against the US dollar. Have we seen a corresponding drop in cost for consumer goods? Nope. We seem to be a nation of suckers.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You forgot to include the “System Access Fee”, which the last time I asked a Telus rep. they still told me was a government mandated fee. Not sure if Telus reps. are just ignorant to it not being a government fee or what.

  6. Consolidation
    CRTC’s biggest mistake is allowing mergers. Fido had a decent set of plans (including unlimited data) until Rogers bought them. Now Fido’s plans mirror Rogers, Fido gets the phones Rogers decides don’t impact them, and no unlimited data plan. If CRTC allows more mergers (Telus & Bell) then prices will go up and consumer choice will go down.

    The only hope we have is that maybe Shaw will buy some spectrum and offer wireless. Shaw is the only company that is not owned or in bed with a traditional telco.

  7. I live in Calgary. I hate my Rogers cell phone plan. The phone costs me $55 per month and comes with 100 day time and 1000 evening/weekend miniutes. That does not include any data. If I browse the web I get billed $0.30 per kilobyte! Minutes do not roll-over. There doesn’t seem to be a provider in town that offers a per-second billing anymore. They stopped offering that years ago because they make more money with per-minute billing.

    The “system access fee” is not required by the government. This money is not passed on to the government. Phone providers add it on as “something we have to charge” just to make an extra $7 per customer per month. This way they can advertise a lower plan fee to attract customers.

  8. Todd Sieling says:

    Thanks for posting the link to the petition; I’ll be sure to sign that, believe me. It’s pretty sad that the barrier to the iPhone in Canada isn’t technical nor is it Apple, but instead a stagnant provider market and their lack of business innovation.

  9. Tom Bielecki says:

    Thank you for linking to my petition ! These companies have ridiculous pricing. I’m curious as to whether or not you have taken a look at this:
    [ link ]

  10. Michael,

    There is absolutely no way that Rogers will be allowed by Apple (whose market cap is now just a few billion shy of HP) to charge that sort of fee. I can be fairly certain that Rogers will be talked into (perhaps strong-armed might be a better term) a package rate almost identical to the one offered by AT&T in the U.S. They know that offering the iPhone and the rates Apple wants them too ensures them a huge new base of fanatic iPhone customers, lots of cell phone sales, and an exclusive multi-year deal in Canada with Apple.

    The iPhone is simply too big a technology device to ignore … it took RIM 20 years to build a base of only 9 million subscribers for its Blackberry … and the same time to sell 20 million units. Apple will shatter those numbers within a year (easily) for the first, and within 2 years for the second — I’d wager money on that. Jim B’s got his head in the sand if he thinks otherwise and that the iPhone’s not a threat (the TO Star of last weekend). His shareholders should be appaled.

  11. reader
    you think that it’s expensive here? Try New Zealand mobile “plans”.

  12. Here’s a crazy thought: Private mobile carriers have resulted in some of the highest charges for Canadian consumers in the world. So why not try a public mobile carrier? Canada Post was charged with delivering the mail, so why not create Canada Talk to do the same for mobile communications?

    In the spirit of Canada Post (where it costs no more to send a letter across the country than across town), let’s start by making all Canada a local call. Next, have reasonable rate packages, where ‘reasonable’ is based on some G8 average (for example) which include unlimited data (because data is the future of mobile). Mail isn’t free either. While we’re at allow any unlocked phone to be activated and get the carrier out of the handset ‘tweaking’ business. Finally, allow any application (which isn’t illegal, phone-disabling or bandwidth-killing) unfettered access to the network. No walled gardens allowed.

    Where to get the spectrum? There’s an auction coming up, isn’t there? Cancel it, because the public has already paid for it in ridiculous wireless charges. The best part, however, is if Canada Talk is turning into another government boondoggle — sell it off! Preferably to a foreign operator who isn’t afraid to compete.

    Just a thought.

  13. Jim Rudnick says:

    so…if it’s gonna be that expensive, can someone offer, would it be cheaper to drive to Buffalo, buy an IPhone on ATT and then use it from here via Roaming?

  14. Hello! iPhone calling. I went to the US to pick-up my iPhone but i needed a US social insurance number to activate. Glad i didn’t buy it then. But i plan on going down and September and i will buy it and never activate it on Rogers’ exorbitant rates. i will use the free wi-fi, skype, browser etc. I have a cheapo phone (free) and my cheapo 15$ a month talk-and-pay plan to make cell calls. I ain’t giving any of the mobile providers my hard -earned cash. Spending over 60-100 a month on cell calls is crazy! With wi-fi and iPhone the mobile landscape is about to change.
    PS great idea; CANADA TALK. for this to happen the Harper Gov will have to be defeated in the next election.

  15. Wednesday Keller says:

    Enter 999-999-999 for your social insurance number and they’ll give you a month-to-month contract with somewhat less minutes but still unlimited data.

    As for a public telecom? Sigh. What Canada needs is (foreign) competition and a CRTC that actually you know regulates, not more poorly run crown corporations. Especially since the current corporations form a (silent, illegal) cartel opening them up to the market will force them to adapt or die. Historically the public corporation will lose money leading to increased taxes, be poorly run, NOT foster any sort of innovation, and just suck.

    The best idea would be a combination of a CRTC that does it’s job, competition both foreign and domestic, and perhaps a joint R&D effort between the government and the various telecoms to move forward onto a single nation-wide advanced 4G network (talk to Japan’s NTT DoCoMo) that uses the same spectrum as others worldwide.

    As for WiFi? People overestimate the effect it will have. Anybody in an advanced mobile market—i.e. Japan, South Korea, and to a lesser extent Europe—will tell you that improvements to UMTS (3G) is the way forward not the much more limited and still basically theoretical WiFi Max.

  16. What everyone seems to overlook is the fact that without an Apple iPhone, an AT&T plan with all of those features (thousands of minutes, unlimited data, video messaging, etc.) also costs upwards of $250.

    An AT&T user with say, a Nokia E61 will pay 100 bucks for their unlimited data alone.

    We’re comparing Apple to apples, which isn’t fair.

  17. @keller – Thx for the tip about 999.999.999! My point about wi-fi is that _currently_ it works for me and my laptop. anywhere in the city i have easy free access to internet: email, skype, and web services. I agree that 3G is longer term is the mobile answer. My pont is that an iPhone _without_ the telcos is stil la great little mobile gadget… without having to fork out big bucks for the mobile data part. Save your Money!
    PS Keller; any ideas why Telus keeps telling me that 3G UMTS is old technology and their CDMA is more \\\\\\\”advanced\\\\\\\”. … even though i can use my telus phone in europe but all my european friends can use their phoen here in NA?

  18. Here is an interesting fact.
    Rogers Currently bills you at 30 cents per Kb of data. However an AT&T customer using the Data service in Canada pays 13 cents for a KB.

    Since AT&T is GSM they would be roaming on Rogers, and yet pay less for Data.

  19. hot
    \”Users pushing wireless valley: The iPhone will probably reshape the mobile phone industry, most experts agree\”….. Rogers and Telus are going to get a wake up call real soon. Once customers get onto the fact that they are being royally gouged… as in the example in Damian\’s post… watch out! Customer revolt on it;s way.

    I love how people complain about Canadian lack of choice and competition, but ignore Apple’s massive role in monopolizing the very market they are complaining about. With the iPhone, you cannot write you own non-web applications, and you cannot use any other provider than the one Apple makes an exclusive deal with.

    Personally, I’ll be picking up an OpenMoko Linux based phone this fall ([ link ]).

  21. I\’ve been dying to get a mobile data connection for years. In Japan you can get unlimited (fairly slow but still unlimited) data for $20/mo. I\’ll drop $700 on an iPhone in an instant if I could get an unlimited data plan with it (without paying $300/mo)

    Heck, I *work* for TELUS, and I still can\’t get a break on a data plan. =(

  22. Wednesday Keller says:

    Telus is just engaging in standard telecom trickery. Their current EVDO version of CDMA2000 is faster then WCDMA/UMTS but UMTS is easily upgradable to the faster HSDPA and HSUPA standards—and in fact most worldwide UMTS operators are in the process of doing so.

    As for standards Europe and the world exist predominately—though not solely—on the GSM standard (Rogers or AT&T in North America) with 3G data delivered through the UMTS standard.

    One major upside to GSM (which is otherwise technically inferior to CDMA. For example UMTS and CDMA2000 are both CDMA based technology, though not compatible) is that the standard requires a SIM card which, if you have an unlocked phone like most European ones, means you can pop in any GSM operators card and use their network without paying exorbitant roaming fees.

    Therefore a European visiting Canada can pop in a prepaid Rogers SIM card and use that. Or if you get your Rogers phone unlocked you can do the same in Europe.

    CDMA phones lack SIM cards you can pop in and out and further there’s not a lot of CDMA networks in Europe.

    Mostly because Apple makes the best consumer user interfaces on the planet. Is the iPhone (currently) limited versus the still not in commercial production OpenMoko? Yep. Is it a heck of a lot easier to use? Yep. Will it stay a whole lot easier to use? Based on open source Linux UI versus closed source Apple Mac OS X UI—for sure.

    So I’m willing to wait for a SDK from Apple so the iPhone becomes what I want—the Newton II—over using the superficially similar but much worse UI on any other phone, touchscreen or otherwise.

  23. Ok, Keller, you keep on waiting. Your attitude shows that like many Apple zealots, your mind is already closed to the idea that anything not made by Apple is even worth considering. Thats your opinion, but I frankly don’t see why Apple would even consider opening up their phone when so many people will buy their products for the exclusiveness of the logo alone? Your assertion that anything open source is automatically inferior directly contradicts the fact that Apple’s own products have been built on top of open source software, with little or nothing given back in return. BTW, for many people, the KDE gui matched OS X years ago, and with the upcoming release of V4 will leapfrog it in most respects. But you keep waiting for that dreamland SDK and that pie-in-the-sky unlocked iPhone. The rest of us will support companies that walk the walk, and right now that means OpenMoko.

  24. @keller. Thanks! A very well informed response. I am in the process of leaving Telus as soon as i get my iPhone, and i want to leave them with a piece of my mind when i do. And I like how the lawmakers south of the border are pushing for “openess” in mobile use:
    But the iPhone, Markey said, “highlights both the promise and the problems of the wireless industry today.” The phone sells for full price, yet owners get essentially no rights over how to use it; the phone forces you to sign a two-year contract with poorly ranked AT&T service, at pain of a $175 early-termination fee. “Many consumers feel trapped having bought an expensive device or having been locked into a long-term contract with significant penalties for switching,” Markey said. And it’s not just iPhone owners. Nobody likes their cell provider; people are sick of the fees, they’re sick of the stringent contracts, they’re sick of the bad cell signal. But what are you going to do? There are four large cell carriers in the U.S. — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint — and none has customers who are particularly happy.—-

    and in Canada we have even less choice. but if the US opens up the wirless airways and the iPhone can be unlocked and uses SIM cards…well then that is what will help us shop around.
    @james: the biggest seller of unix is Apple. OS X ( used in the in the iPhone) coupled with Java/Ajax. gee is there any other way to fly! iPod +iTunes + iPhone + OS X everywhere. The majority of users want ease and not be muckin garound with confiqurations. _gots no time for that_

  25. higher cost of service
    Does anyone ever stop to think that providing cellular services to a smaller Canadian population (about 1/10th of U.S. pop.) that\’s spread across thousands of miles might have something to do with higher costs of said services?

  26. Telus is horrible. The customer service staff is rude and hostile. I asked for a copy of my contract in December and 4 different people told me it would be mailed to within 6-8 weeks. 16 weeks later, I’m still waiting and no-one bothered to call me back. Everytime I call, I get yet another hostile customer service rep. DO NOT SIGN UP WITH TELUS.

  27. Justin Haygood says:

    Software Engineer
    Quote: \”Does anyone ever stop to think that providing cellular services to a smaller Canadian population (about 1/10th of U.S. pop.) that\\\’s spread across thousands of miles might have something to do with higher costs of said services?\”

    Um… look at the follow Commonwealth Realm of Australia. Similar demographics and population densities.. and the costs are closer to the US han to Canada.

  28. “higher costs of said services”@Mr.Rogers

    And why does Canadian owned crude shipped to the USA refined and then re-imported back into Canada as gas – will cost 30% more in Canada than in the USA!

    A week or two strike by car drivers in Canada might fix the issue.

  29. Robert F.
    As for the guy talking about distance and costs…I don’t think so…the infrastructure was already built by Bell and others wayyyy back when.

    Do you really think your cell phone magically dances through the air to the other person? It’s routed to a land line across the country, and pops back up, or via microwave or sat.

    Infrastructure certainly needs upkeep, but trust me you’re getting screwed.

    Solution? ditch the stupid phone unless your company gives you one. If you’re in you 20′s this is impossible, you likely crave love from friends, so must have communications. But maybe when you get older you’ll realize that you’re paying to gab…and usually it’s nothing..of ZERO importance and CAN wait until you get home.

    I have a phone on my desk, and one at home. And home is 15 minutes away (i know i’m lucky!) Anyone wants me…leave a message otherwise take off! ;)

  30. Rogers Petition
    Hello, everyone please read and sign this petition to rogers for a better data plan.

    [ link ]

  31. Cel phone Outgoing calls for 11$ Local!
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  32. Attention ALL Canadians on Facebook – Join the Cell Phone REVOLUTION – Bell, Rogers and Telus
    Hey everyone, there is a movement starting on Facebook – The Cell Phone REVOLUTION

    We know how you feel about your Wireless Service Provider. We need a change in the Canadian Wireless industry. This change starts with you.

    JOIN this group and share some of your “horror” stories about the Big Three (Bell, Rogers and Telus). Please ask all of your friends to join as well.

    This is a mission to Change the Wireless Industry in Canada for good. YOU can help to make this a reality by voicing YOUR opinion. We ARE listening.



  33. Canada 3.0 session on digital innovation
    At Canada 3.0 in Stratford I attended a session on digital innovation which featured a presentation by a Rogers rep of some kind. During the Q&A that followed I asked him if in fact the high cost of data plans wasn’t holding back innovation in that the rates resulted in slower uptake of data plans and such. In response he muttered something about Rogers having several price points, blah, blah and blah. Having the mic in my hand, I stuck to the question, noting that while the issue wasn’t adoption of cell usage but in fact smartphones of all kinds. The moderator stepped in at this point and asked for another question. The next questioner said that she wanted to stick with the point I had brought up and pressed him again on the issue. A third questioner also wouldn’t let it go. After the event was concluded, someone approached me, thanking me for the question noting that it was the elephant in the room during the session. And it still is…

  34. Tina McCorrister says:

    MTS (Manitoba Tephone System) High Cell Phone Costs
    The last plan we were on was a very good plan, they told us when we went to renew our 3 years plan that we were lucky to have a plan like that. The cost was 120 – 130 for the month, for 4 cell phones. Then we got the contract renewed and they gave us the new blackberry, well they told us the cost would be a max of 50 per phone, well that wasn’t true, when we got our first month bill, each phone was like 79 dollars and up for each, so much for our unlimited this and that plan. The first phone bill was close to 400, this is ridiculous, and it was mostly texting for the 3 phones, not sure were they get all the other charges with a unlimited plan. I phoned MTS and asked about the high costs, they would not tell me, they kept giving me other numbers to call, i guess we are stuck with this plan for the next 2 1/2 years, i asked why did you take over the whole network for this area, they denied it. Different relatives were out for the holidays with the rogers and there phones did not work here. Please help to get a new service provider in our area, and not let mts take over the whole network. PS: If they want to take over the whole network they should atleast provide high speed to all areas instead of the dialup that they provide to most northern manitoba areas and they should lower there prices instead of trying to get the Aboriginal people to pay $750,000 for the cell phone towers. They make up to 999 million dollars in one year profit on the MTS system, the government should start taking some of that money and provide so youth programs or more housing for familes, or any other programs needed that there is not enough money to fund through the government and start that instead of raising their big salaries each year at MTS.

  35. CHINA

  36. There are options
    There are companies out there that can help you reduce your wireless costs by as much as 50% without changing carriers or existing plans. They are starting to pop up and help consumers and businesses obtain better plans and enhance service.