The best & worst Canadian wireless data providers

Stewart Midwinter 6 years ago

Who's the best (i.e. cheapest), and who's the worst (most expensive), Canadian wireless data provider? Let's say you already have a cellphone for voice calls, but want to have an internet connection wherever you go; you're going to buy a device and want to get connected. Whom should you choose, and whom should you avoid at all costs? As always, it all depends, but the short answer is: stay away from Rogers.

Whom to choose for your provider depends firstly on what kind of device you have. Generally, all the providers in Canada are catering to business users, and are screwing individual users blind charging individual consumers what they think they can get away with. There's one exception to this (Bell), so read on.

The best deals out there right now can be had if you purchase and use a wireless data PC card (a.k.a. PCMCIA card) that you plug into a notebook PC. In this case, Rogers wins by a hair, thanks to their new pc-card data plan announced last week. Your monthly bill for $1 GB would be only $65 on Rogers, and $100 on Bell. If you went over the limit, and used 2 GB, your bill on Rogers would be only $75, but a whopping $1100 on Bell and $3100 on Telus!

If you are a Blackberry user, prepare to be hosed if you want to do lots of browsing. The main tip here is: buy the most expensive data plan you or your company can afford in order to avoid a heart attack at the end of the month (think of the extra expense as anti-heart-attack insurance). Rogers' $100 Blackberry plan is the worst of any: it gives you only 200 MB of data. If you happened to use 1 GB, you'd be paying $7100! Bell and Telus also have a $100 plan, but the same 1 GB would cost only $100. If you go over your limit to 2 GB, you'll be paying $16100 on Rogers, $3100 on Telus and $1100 on Bell.

If you have a wireless PDA or smartphone, the situation is about as bad as for Blackberry users, as the plans are just as expensive. If you have deep pockets, or an employer paying your bills, you can get the Rogers $80 plan, which gives you only 200 MB of data (that's just 3 graphics-rich web pages per day). If you happen to go over, and use 1 GB, you'll be paying $4280! Bell and Telus are quite a bit better in this regard; their $100 plan for PDAs is identical to their Blackberry plan, so you'll get 1 GB for that $100. If you go over, and use 2 GB, your bill will be $1100 on Bell or $3100 on Telus, but that's still better than on Rogers where your bill would be $9680!

But maybe you don't have a company paying your PDA or smartphone bill, so you decide to try and save some money and get the $25 plan. On Rogers this gets you a mere 4 MB of data (that's about 4 graphics-rich web pages, or 1 YouTube video). If you got carried away and started browsing a little more, and used up 1 GB of data, you'd get a bill for $25205 at the end of the month! Bell and Telus would be even worse, charging you $30551 at the end of the month. This is what has made Ted Rogers the 2nd-richest man in Canada. Angry yet?

If you own or operate a smarthone or PDA in Canada and cannot guarantee you won't exceed your data limits, buy the $100 plan and consider the extra expense to be bankruptcy insurance.

Whether you use a Blackberry or a PDA, the only way to protect yourself from a financial disaster in Canada is to buy a bigger data plan. The penalties for over-use of your data plan are so bad that it's like visiting a country where the penalty for exceeding the speed limit with your car is having your wife and children shot by a firing squad - only in that country none of the cars have speedometers so you have no way of knowing how fast you are driving. Similarly, in Canada none of the wireless providers give you a tool to let you know how much data you've used. None of the providers will send you a text message to say you've exceeded your data limits, and none of them will turn off your data access when you hit your plan limit.

So what's a person to do if you still want to live the wireless internet life and not risk losing your car, your home and everything you own, just because your teenager got a hold of your Blackberry for an hour? Bell offers a $7/mo unlimited browsing plan on their HTC Touch smartphone. You can't use it as a tethered modem for your notebook PC, but it's all you can eat on the little screen. By the way, that plan is not offered on any other PDA or Blackberry in the Bell line-up, as the plan is limited to use on "phones". For some reason (thankfully), Bell considers the HTC Touch to be a "phone" rather than a PDA, even though it runs Windows Mobile 6 and is a fully-functioning PDA (albeit with a small 2.8" screen rather than the 3.5" or 4.0" screens of most other PDAs).

Second-best for wireless data would be Virgin Mobile Canada's Tidal Wave Data Plan, a $10/month unlimited browsing plan only available on their Samsung m510 phone. The browser on that phone's tiny screen does okay on regular HTML web pages, including GMail, but doesn't display properly pages that rely on Javascript for placement of screen elements (many sites).

One more thing: if you go to the US, turn off your data access! You can check the details in the data-plan webpages below, but generally all three of the Canadian majors will charge you $3000-$6000/GB of data transfer while you are roaming in the US. For more information, check the providers' rate-plan pages:

Provider PC-card plans Blackberry plans PDA plans
Bell PC-card plans,
unlimited mobile browser
Blackberry plans PDA plans
Telus PC-card plan Blackberry & PDA plans
Rogers (inaccessible with Firefox) new PC-card plans Blackberry data plans PDA plans,
business PDA plans

Costs for each carrier and device type, as of January 25, 2008

Provider PC-card plans Blackberry plans PDA plans
Bell Bell's PC-card data plans bell blackberry data plans Bell's PDA rate plans
Telus Telus' PC-card data plans Telus' Blackberry data plans Telus' PDA data plans
Rogers (inaccessible with Firefox) Rogers' PC-card data plans