Wireless plans in Canada are expensive. We all know that. As I’ve been showing in our Fastest Mobile Networks Canada series since 2013, Canadians typically pay very high prices for very good networks.
But a chart that came out from consultancy Tefficient today makes the Canadian scene look even worse than it really is. It led to me realizing that if you haven’t changed your wireless plan in Canada since 2018, you need to look at a new one. Now.
Tefficient’s chart shows Canada shockingly out of line with data prices in every other country it studied, including the US.
That $14/GB price seems to heavily overweight older, low-gigabyte plans and ignores the changes in Canadian wireless plans since 2019. In my research for our Fastest Mobile Networks 2019 story, I found prices per gigabyte really plummeted that year (and have gotten even lower since).
In the second half of 2019, there was a huge shift in higher-end wireless plan value, led by Rogers’ introduction of its Infinite plans. The Infinite plans promote themselves as “unlimited data” but they’re really “big gig” plans where you get a large gigabyte bucket and then your speeds are severely throttled afterward. As the three big Canadian carriers generally follow each other on pricing, Rogers’ big-gig plans led to Bell and Telus introducing their own.
Why was this happening? It was a combination of political pressure—remember, “bring down your wireless prices” was a talking point in the 2019 election—and additional capacity. All of the carriers have brought new channels online recently that were being severely underutilized with Canadians’ low data allotments. There was room to grow.
So if you’re paying $80/month for fewer than 30 gigs, you need to go get those gigs. If you’re paying $50/month for fewer than 8 gigs, you need to go get them (from Virgin/Fido/Koodo/Videotron.) If you can cope with Freedom’s coverage, they’re always the best value, of course.
Network sharing means that you can get similar network experiences by flipping between carriers who share some resources. Bell, Telus, Virgin, and Koodo all have similar networks, as do Rogers, Fido, and Videotron. They aren’t exactly the same—see Fastest Mobile Networks Canada 2020 for more details—but they’re similar.
There’s No Low End
Canada has a very high price floor for basic service. Down at the $30 level, things are really bad. Virgin sells 1GB for $28 and 5GB for $50. Mainline Bell doesn’t prominently advertise any plans below $80. You just get a lot more for your $80 than you used to.
As we explained in Fastest Mobile Networks Canada 2020, the country lacks the super-low-cost plans available in the US from virtual operators. Nobody in Canada dares do Mint Mobile’s $15 4GB plan, even though the company is owned by the world’s most famous Vancouverite. Nobody’s doing anything like US Mobile’s $20/12GB plan.[embedded content]
I’m not here to complain pointlessly, yet again, about Canadian wireless prices. I’m here to say that if you haven’t changed plans recently, you could absolutely be getting more data for your dollar, and should do so.
Where It Gets Tricky
Three things stand in the way of a lot of people getting better deals in Canada. First, it’s a pain in the butt. There’s a lot of consumer inertia and suspicion. It may take days to port your number and people just don’t want that drama. The second is that the cheapest plan prices are usually for “bring your own phone” plans and people are confused about how to buy and bring their own phones. The third is explained by TekSavvy’s Peter Nowak: “many new or promotional plans are available only to new customers, which means you often need to switch carriers to get them. And then you get hit with activation fees, which can neutralize some of the savings you’d see.”
It’s infuriating that the carriers don’t just auto-upgrade people’s plans, as T-Mobile has done here in the US, it’s infuriating that the CRTC has so far dropped the ball on Mint Mobile-like options, and it’s infuriating that they don’t typically give loyalty discounts to longtime customers.
But you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t look at what you could gain by switching service plans or even carriers now. All Canadian phones are compatible with all the major carriers’ 4G systems; using your existing phone shouldn’t be a barrier, and that will let you get the “bring your own phone” lower plan price. Just do it.