There is no doubt that Canada is a wonderful country to be a shareholder of large telecom companies. The major telcos including Bell Canada, Rogers, and Telus pay out consistently increasing dividends like clock work year on year. Telus just announced today another nearly 5% dividend increase, their second this year.
Holding these companies for many years now has become a considerable wealth creator for our family and many other shareholders.
However, to be a customer leaves much to be desired, such is the price to be paid when dealing with an oligopoly.
Much of the difficulty we have in Canada is a great deal of space with low densities of population outside of a handful of major cities combined with a morbid national fear of foreign owned companies entering and taking over the Canadian market. As such, we lack a competitive market place for telecoms.
When I compare low cost plans in the UK there are companies such as Giffgaff where for $40CDN a month you can get an unlimited everything plan with nationwide 4G speeds. Or in the USA with Republic Wireless you can get a nationwide plan for a fraction of the price of what we pay in Canada. None of our major telecom companies are remotely competitive on an international playing field.
For example, when I look at Rogers low cost division Fido, if I bring my own phone for a sim only deal and I want unlimited talk, text and 5gb of data I still pay $90 CDN a month. Any overages past that on data are charged at an additional $5/250mb of data. That makes me happy as a shareholder, but a tad grumpy as a customer.
Suffice to say when we retuned to Canada after many years abroad I suffered with chest pains and shortness of breath when I looked into a cell phone plan.
I use pay as you go where I pay 25 cents a minute for local calls and 15 cents a text message.
I spend in the range of $7-8 a month on cellphone costs.
To keep my cost low I don’t have a data plan. As I no longer run a business, I have little need for it. In terms of sending text messages I typically use Viber, which is a remarkable (think whatsApp on steroids) free worldwide texting system or Facebook messenger.
To make telephone calls we have Magic Jack VOIP system for our home telephone which works out to just over $3/month for the service and with that we get unlimited calls throughout North America.
When I am out and about, if I need to make a call I use the free Magic Jack app which allows me to make free VOIP calls from my cell phone to any cell phone or landline in North America as long as I am connected to Wi-Fi.
As such, with minimal forward planning, I spend very little on telecoms.
However, this changed recently. Whilst I am not actively looking for work, a friend of mine owns a car dealership and he is doing a booming business exporting vehicles to the US from Calgary taking advantage of the the weak Canadian dollar, specifically targeting domestic trucks and SUV’s.
He had a bit of a dilemma, he needed to get some trucks down to Salt Lake City quickly but the car transport company he normally uses was booked solid for a few weeks. It sounded like a bit of an adventure so I made the offer that although I was not interested in long distance driving on a regular basis, I would be happy to help him out in the short term as long as he made it worth my while. Besides, the drive from Calgary to Salt Lake city is nothing short of spectacular in the Autumn.
I looked at my current cell phone provider and they didn’t have a USA add on option as I didn’t want to do the trip without commincation. Primarily for safey if I broke down in rural Montana, but more importantly so I could talk with you kids and stream some music from Tune in Radio, like my favourite station KNDD in Seattle.
After a bit of searching I had few potential options.
I could purchase pay as you go SIM only deal from a USA provider once I crossed the border, I could pay a daily rate from Roam Mobilty which is specifically designed for Canadians who travel to the USA and Mexico and only pay a daily rate for the days they use.
I opted for a Canadian provider called WIND Mobile who is an alternative provider to the big Canadian telecom companies and a company that had stoked my interest.
Wind is a peculiar telecom company. They only really operate in large urban centres (Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, etc). Outside of the immediate core areas of the cities, you get charged roaming rates. So if you don’t leave the city very much they could be a good option as a lower cost provider.
However, the do not offer 4G services in Calgary, you are limited to 3G over their obscure frequencies.
Whilst much of the world uses the GSM frequencies, in Canada, apart from Rogers network, we like to use different frequencies. The WIND Mobile network uses a frequency called AWS, with bands 1700/2100 MHz meaning very few phones are compatible with their network. Unless you have a newer quad band phone it simply won’t work.
In my case, I purchased an inexpensive quad band phone from Costco under their 90 day free rental plan as I was curious to give their network a try.
The advantage to me was with a no contract SIM only deal from WIND mobile I could get unlimited everything in Canada for only $50 a month but most importantly that also gave me unlimited everything in the USA via their USA partner’s AT&T and T-Mobile.
In Canada, I was limited to 3G speeds, but in the USA I was told I could use their ultra fast 4G network with unlimited data.
So I popped into my local WIND shop and had a chat with the very nice, but not at all knowledgeable young lady about my desire to use their USA service. It turns out that WIND isn’t just $50 a month, I had to pony up another $25 just to purchase their SIM card.
I wasn’t impressed with the additional $25 fee, WIND likes to promote itself as a low cost provider with no contracts or fees, so I felt this was terribly misleading.
To get my full $25 worth and to feel the full WIND experience, I asked the attractive young sales lady to pop the SIM card into my phone and get it working.
I used WIND mobile for one month involving some trips to Salt Lake City. So what was the verdict?
The service around Calgary in terms of voice calls and text messages was adequate, but only as long as I was outside.
The big downside of WIND using the AWS frequency I that it has terrible penetration into buildings.
For example, on a trip where I landed back at Calgary Airport, I couldn’t get any sort of signal inside the airport on the WIND network when I tried to contact my friend who was picking me up. I fired up my regular pay as you go phone which uses the cheapskate plan from Speakout Wireless (Rogers network by a different name) GSM network and I instantly got 4 bars inside the airport and I was able to make the call. I had this same scenario happened frequently around Calgary with lack of penetration into buildings.
In terms of Winds 3G coverage in Calgary. I would describe it as spotty. I ran frequent speeds tests using the Ookla speed test app. In Calgary, I never got download speeds above 3mb/sec, in fact much of the time is was 1mb/sec or less or in some cases nothing at all. It was only on a rare handful of times that I was able to get speeds of 3mb/sec.
However, in the USA is was an entirely different experience. Shortly after crossing into the USA at Sweetgrass, Montana I was on either the 4G network of T-Mobile or AT&T. Their speeds were blistering fast and typically above 10mb/sec. There were a few places in very rural Montana and Utah where there was no signal, but for the vast majority of time, I had no problem making calls and streaming data to crank music via TuneIn radio.
It would seem that not only do the Americans have better Mexican food than we do, but their infrastructure is vastly superior.
So, at the end of a month and the end of my driving to Salt Lake, who would I recommend Wind Mobile for?
If you travel frequently to the USA, definitively get Wind Mobile, their partner networks offer superb high speed coverage for a knock down price.
If you run a business and must have flawless communication in a Canadian city, I wouldn’t recommend it.
If you can want half decent voice calls and text messages, relative to price, and can live with spotty 3G service and you live in a major Canadian city, then consider it if you want to save some money.
If you have teenagers who are addicted to data, then consider it. However, you kids won’t be getting it, learn to patient and wait for wifi, or learn to live with disappointment. Or even better, learn the ancient art of communication and talk with your friends.
Will I be keeping WIND mobile?
At the end of a month, no I won’t be keeping WIND Mobile.
I will go back to my cheapskate pay as you go system from Speakout Wireless not because the service is spotty, but rather it’s a service that I don’t require and I would rather have the extra $500/year in my pocket.
I have no need for a data plan. I realised long ago that I am a terrible father and worse husband when I have access to unlimited internet on my cell phone. Instead of paying attention to my family, I was constantly fiddling on my cell phone. So for me, a self confessed data junkie, going cold turkey is the best solution.
In fact, a few days ago when I took you kids to the park, I looked around and I was the only parent actually engaging with their children.
The rest of the parents were ignoring their kids and had their faces buried in their phones, that is not the quality family time that I am looking for.