June 13, 2019 10:05 am
Updated: June 13, 2019 5:23 pm

Rogers, Bell, Telus launch beefed up wireless data plans – but there’s a catch

WATCH ABOVE: Rogers is about to begin offering its customers unlimited data plans, with a catch. Jordan Armstrong has the details, and whether other networks could follow.

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Bell has joined Rogers in offering wireless data plans that don’t charge overage fees once the monthly cap has been exceeded — a new approach for Canada’s national wireless carriers.

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Like its rival, Bell is offering a $75 per month plan with up to 10 gigabytes of full-speed data usage per month, followed by unlimited data at reduced speeds.

Telus is taking a different approach from the other two, with a plan that effectively charges $75 per month for 15 gigabytes of full-speed data usage per month, followed by the standard overage fee. Telus said its promo is for new, renewing and existing bring-your-own-devices customers.

The new plans signal at least a temporary shift in pricing strategy for Canada’s three national wireless networks, which have been slower to adopted “unlimited” data plans than U.S. carriers.

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Rogers says the change in pricing is part of a multi-year plan ahead of the introduction of higher-speed, higher-capacity fifth-generation wireless networks.

The Bell offers will end June 30 while Telus says its $75 plan with 10 gigabytes of data plus five gigabytes of bonus data will be available until July 2.

There are other terms and conditions that set Canada’s three national carriers apart from each other and from Freedom Mobile, which has long offered unlimited data plans without overage fees in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

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Analyst Aravinda Galappatthige of CanaccordGenuity says the introduction of unlimited plans with larger data buckets will counter one of Freedom’s main advantages.

“With that said, we note there is still a healthy gap between Freedom’s pricing and Rogers’ initial pricing,” he wrote.

A current Freedom promotion is offer 10 gigabytes of data per month for $60 plus four gigs of fast bonus data on its own regional network and one gigabyte of fast data nationally. Freedom Mobile operates wireless networks in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

READ MORE: Freedom Mobile launches 100 GB promotion in latest challenge to Big 3 rivals

Consumer advocacy group OpenMedia questions the timing of the Rogers’ announcement, pointing out it comes amid a CRTC review of the wireless market.

“I think they want to be able to pat themselves on the back and I think that they’re also scared at the prospect of the review of new providers coming into the market and fostering actual competition,” Marie Aspiazu with OpenMedia said.

“After you hit your data cap, you’re being throttled from LTE to 3G, which significantly reduces the speed of your connection and what you can do with our phone,” Aspiazu said.

Vancouver resident Kyle Chen points out Canada’s mobile plans are still some of the most expensive in the world for what consumers receive.

“You go down to the U.S. right now, you get about 10 gigs for $50 or so. It’s still not competitive,” he said.

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Tourists also find it baffling.

“I come from Scotland,” Kate Wilson said. “And most of the phone contracts are unlimited data.”

Even some American expats haven’t switched to Canadian plans.

“We’re both from the States and we’ve actually kept our other cellphone provider because it does have unlimited in Canada and the U.S.,” Adelle Tobias Kelly said.

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Michael Geist, the Canadian Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa (and a lead commentator when it comes to Canadian telecommunications issues), notes the presence of regional providers like SaskTel, Eastlink, Freedom Mobile and Videotron has lead to lower plans in certain provinces.

“By far, the biggest factor [impacting prices] is competition,” Geist explains.

“Other countries have more competition, which leads to lower prices. For example, some countries have more liberal foreign investment rules, which opens the door to big international carriers who can push prices lower.”

What about “discount carriers?” Well, they’re not technically considered competition to the “Big 3,” Geist explained.

“Most ‘discount carriers’ in Canada are actually flanker brands owned by the larger players,” he says.

“While there are some notable entrants in some markets — Videotron, Sasktel, Freedom Mobile — we still don’t have a strong fourth national carrier on the level of Bell, Rogers, and Telus.”

READ MORE: Lower cost data-only cellphone plans on the way to Canada: CRTC

Rogers, which operates across Canada, says its new unlimited data plans will become available Thursday.

“Increasingly customers have been telling us that data overage and worry-free wireless is really critical to their ability to use wireless services,” Rogers Wireless Services president Brent Johnston said.

Rogers also said it will introduce new options for financing device purchases later this summer.

READ MORE: The best, cheapest cellphone plans in Canada in 2019

— With files from Sean Boynton, Karen Bartko, Jordan Armstrong and Dani-Elle Dubé, Global News

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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