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The best cellphone plans in Canada: Which deals are worth your money?

How to find the best cellphone plan for you

The high cost of cellphone plans in Canada is a gripe many of us have in common. 

For years, we’ve heard about cheaper services that are easily accessible in other countries, while Canadians are left scouring plans and hoping to pinch pennies.

According to the 2019 Communications Monitoring report from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canadians pay an average of $101 a month on cellphone plans.

An August 2019 report from the CRTC looking at all communication services, including the mobile wireless market, found prices decreased an average of 28 per cent between the years of 2016 to 2018. The report found an average monthly price for a phone plan with unlimited voice, text messaging and 5 GB of data dropped to $51.05 from $78.36.

The big three providers ⁠— Telus, Bell and Rogers ⁠— no longer offer 5 GB plans.

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READ MORE: Canada’s new low-cost cell phone plans? ‘A joke,’ expert says

 

A previous report from 2018 prepared for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada found plans that include talk, text and at least 5 GB of data cost about $30 in the U.K., Italy and Australia. 

And while there are some major differences in costs and data plans available compared to this time last year, experts who examined data provided by Global News say it’s more of the same: unreasonably high costs with not enough options. 

Global News spoke to 18 wireless providers across the country to find out what it would cost to get a brand-new phone with at least 10 GB of data and unlimited texts and calls. 

On each call, we asked for the following:

  • Plans for the iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S10+ that were $0 down
  • Unlimited texting and calling in Canada
  • At least 10 GB of data

In cases where the provider didn’t have these phones available or required the consumer to bring their own phone, we picked plans that could match the amount of data we were looking for, along with unlimited texting and calling.

This is what we found:

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The Big Three’s plans in Canada

Graphic by Laura Whelan. Data collected by Global News. 

Why are the Big Three offering more data?

Rogers, Telus and Bell are known as the “Big Three” cellphone plan providers. They are national carriers and often have the most coverage across the country and provide the fastest networks, according to PC Magazine’s annual review of provider speeds.

It’s clear all three providers offered similar costs for both the iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S10+ — Telus edges the other two out on the iPhone 11 by nine cents. Phone manufactures determine the suggested retail price, not the carriers. 

It’s important to note prices and plans may vary depending on the province or territory you live in, with plans in Quebec likely to be cheaper due to more competition there, said Rodrigo Samayoa, a digital campaigner with advocacy group OpenMedia.

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You may also have to pay a sales tax on the devices up front, and costs will vary depending on where you live. 

The best data plans from some of the biggest Canadian cellphone service providers
The best data plans from some of the biggest Canadian cellphone service providers

The Big Three providers also offered discounts if you contacted them directly and had additional promotions for longtime customers. 

In last year’s report, Global News found all three providers offered 4 GB of data for the newest iPhone and Samsung models for the exact same costs as this year. 

Samayoa says companies aren’t suddenly feeling generous. Rather, an increase in competitive rates from discount providers like Freedom and regional providers like Videotron and Eastlink has created more competition. 

“Freedom was the first one to offer unlimited data, and the Big Three started to see that as a threat to their business model, especially in urban centres.” 

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If you have an unlimited plan from one of these providers, the benefit is you won’t receive surprise overage fees, Samayoa says, but you may have to pay more for faster data speeds.

“What is a little bit misleading is how they’re called ‘unlimited plans,’” he said.

“After you reach the 10 GB, the speed that you’re getting is quite unusable for most modern applications, so it’s not truly unlimited data.”

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Those with lower data plans may want to pay more for the promise of “unlimited” data, said Ben Klass, a PhD student at Carleton University and part of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project.

READ MORE: As wireless plans’ costs dip, device prices are shooting up

The Big Three are operating on a sophisticated LTE 4G network, considered one of the fastest speeds that can carry a lot of users at once, so they have room for “unlimited” data for customers, he said.

“What they’ve got right now is a network that’s got a lot of capacity … they can afford to do this because it doesn’t cost them anything,” he said. 

For those who can afford it, the Big Three can be a good option if you need data and good cell service throughout Canada, said Klass. But he says these costs are not reasonable.

More than $100 for a phone plan that includes 10 GB of data, even with a brand-new phone, is “crazy,” he said. 

Discount providers in Canada

Graphic by Laura Whelan. Data collected by Global News. 

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Discount plans are cheaper — but are they worth it?

Discount providers often offer cheaper plans, but availability depends on where you are in Canada for some providers. Discount providers will also offer further deals if you speak with an agent on the phone or chat.

When Global News spoke with Virgin Mobile, the company offered to wave “upfront fees” if the phone and plan were purchased on the spot. 

Excluding possible one-time deals, Freedom clearly ended up with the cheapest plan, especially with a current offer that gives customers 20 GB of “unlimited” data. 

READ MORE: Canadians can pay off their mobile phones, but their bills might not drop. Here’s why

Freedom’s network is also the strongest in major urban centres like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, according to its website. The provider is continuing to expand to cities like Medicine Hat, Alta., and Kamloops, B.C., making it more accessible, PC Mag reported.

Kingston students react to pending cellphone ban in schools
Kingston students react to pending cellphone ban in schools

“Freedom is doing really well, but the problem is the other three companies have such a head start … that it’s hard for Freedom to expand outside of urban centres,” said Samayoa. “So for everyone else, it’s not an option.”

While the costs for specific iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S10+ plans aren’t much cheaper with discount providers, these brands hold value for people with low incomes, he said. 

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“For some people, when it comes down to deciding whether to get groceries for the month or getting a nicer phone, they’ll get the groceries. So I think it’s important to have those lower-end plans,” he said. 

Many discount providers, especially those owned by the Big Three (Rogers owns Fido, Bell owns Virgin and Telus owns Koodo), offer similar prices.

“[The Big Three] don’t want people to be able to go to one of their other brands and get the exact same thing for much cheaper,” Klass said. 

Discount brands also offer cheaper plans if you’re willing to give up the data and a brand-new phone.

Fido or Koodo, for example, will offer more options, including government-mandated plans that force providers to offer between 250 MB and 1 GB of data per month for $15 to $30, said Klass.

“They’re just offering options to make sure they capture more of the market.” 

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Regional providers in Canada 

Global News also spoke with some regional providers in the country to find their best rates.

VIDEOTRON (Quebec and Ottawa areas)

iPhone 11 plan:

  • $110 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 10 GB plus 100 GB to use if you go over throughout the year, with a limit of 20 GB extra per month
  • Unlimited calls and texts in Canada
  • Storage: 64 GB
  • Setup fee: $25 (before taxes)
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Samsung Galaxy S10+ plan:

  • $110 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 10 GB plus 100 GB to use if you go over throughout the year, with a limit of 20 GB extra per month
  • Unlimited calls and texts in Canada
  • Storage: 128 GB
  • Setup fee: $25 (before taxes)

SASKTEL (available in Saskatchewan

iPhone 11 plan:

  • $111.15 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 10 GB ($5 per each 100 MB over)
  • Unlimited calls and texts 
  • Storage: 64 GB 
  • Setup fee: $35 (before taxes)

Samsung Galaxy S10+ plan:

  • $116.15 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 10 GB ($5 per each 100 MB over)
  • Unlimited calls and texts 
  • Storage: 128 GB 
  • Setup fee: $35 (before taxes)

EASTLINK (Mostly East Coast coverage)

iPhone 11 plan:

  • $112.63 per month (before tax)
  • Data: 10 GB (additional costs if you go over)
  • Unlimited texts and calls nationwide
  • Storage: 64 GB
  • Setup fee: $10

Samsung Galaxy S10+ plan:

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  • $125 per month (before tax)
  • Data: 10 GB (additional costs if you go over)
  • Unlimited texts and calls nationwide
  • Storage: 128 GB
  • Setup fee: $10

XPLORE (available in Manitoba)

iPhone 11 plan:

  • $105/per month (before tax)
  • Data: 10 GB (additional costs if you go over, $5/100 MB)
  • Unlimited text messaging from Canada
  • Unlimited Canada wide calling from Manitoba
  • Storage: 64 GB
  • Setup fee: No activation fee

Samsung Galaxy S10+ plan:

  • $150 up front (before tax)
  • $105/per month (before tax)
  • Data: 10 GB (additional costs if you go over, $5/100 MB)
  • Unlimited text messaging from Canada
  • Unlimited Canada wide calling from Manitoba
  • Storage: 128 GB
  • Setup fee: No activation fee

TBAYTEL (available in Northern Ontario)

iPhone 11 plan:

  • $115 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 12 GB (extra charges after going over)
  • Unlimited texting in Canada or to the U.S.
  • Unlimited calling in Canada or to the U.S. 
  • Storage: 64 GB
  • Setup fee: $25 SIM card fee 
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Samsung Galaxy S10+ plan:

  • $123.75 (before taxes)
  • Data: 12 GB (extra charges after going over)
  • Unlimited texting in Canada or to the U.S.
  • Unlimited calling in Canada or to the U.S. 
  • Storage: 128 GB
  • Setup fee: $25 SIM card fee  

SOGETEL (Available in certain regions in Quebec)

iPhone 11 plan:

  • $80 down for the phone upfront
  • $105 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 10 GB a month (extra charges after going over)
  • Unlimited calls in Canada and unlimited texts
  • Storage: 64 GB
  • No activation fee in a current promotion

Samsung Galaxy S10+ plan :

  • $105 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 10 GB a month (extra charges after going over)
  • Unlimited calls in Canada and unlimited texts
  • Storage: 128 GB
  • No activation fee in a current promotion

ICE WIRELESS (available in the Yukon, Northwest Territories
*Global News picked a plan that offered a $0 down phone.

  • Samsung Galaxy S8 (only phone with $0 down)
  • $119 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 10 GB
  • Storage: 64 GB
  • Unlimited calls to Canada, U.S. and Mexico
  • Unlimited texts to Canada, U.S. and internationally

Regional providers are fighting for a share of the market 

Regional providers that cater services to those living in specific areas of Canada have been fighting for a share of the market for the last few years, said Klass. 

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Companies like Videotron have offered lower prices, forcing national companies to adjust their prices, he explained. 

“They realize that these competitors are here to stay,” he said. 

The downsides, similar to the discount networks, include limited coverage options.

Expert says distractions have always been around, mobile devices are not to blame
Expert says distractions have always been around, mobile devices are not to blame

“You might want to consider where you’re going to be most of the time with your phone,” he said. “If you spend half your time outside of their coverage area, then you’ll be roaming.”

“The big concern with these companies is that the coverage isn’t necessarily as good,” he said. “One of the big issues in this market is people getting unexpected bills.”

While the Big Three still dominate the Canadian market, taking up 90.7 per cent of the revenue market share for 2018, other providers not owned by the Big Three saw a 24.5 per cent revenue growth rate that year, according to the CRTC.

Bargain brands in Canada

Global News also looked at the cellphone plans of bargain brands in Canada. Most of them require the customer to bring their own phone.

PUBLIC

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  • $50 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 8 GB at 3G speeds (with a bonus 500 MB if autopay is set up, $30 per extra 1 GB)
  • Unlimited talk and text in Canada and calls to the U.S.

CHATR:

  • $50 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: Unlimited 8 GB data at 3G speeds (speed reduces after 8 GB)
  • Unlimited text and talk in Canada and calls to the U.S.

LUCKY:

  • $50 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: Unlimited 8G data (speed reduces after 8 GB)
  • Unlimited texts and talk in Canada and calls to the U.S.

CITYFONE (same company as Primus, Zoomer and Simply Connect)

Samsung Galaxy A70

  • $0 down on the phone
  • $95 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 5 GB
  • Storage: 128 GB
  • Unlimited Canada-wide calling, unlimited text and MMS in Canada and internationally

Google Pixel 3A

  • $0 down on the phone
  • $95 per month (before taxes)
  • Data: 5 GB
  • Storage: 64 GB
  • Unlimited Canada-wide calling, unlimited text and MMS in Canada and internationally
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What are bargain providers offering in Canada?

The above brands are what Klass refers to as “bargain basement” discount brands that are newer on the scene. Most are owned by the Big Three — Lucky Mobile is owned by Bell, Public Mobile is owned by Telus and Chatr and Cityfone are both owned by Rogers. 

Even though some of these brands seem to offer a good amount of data, they have slowed-down speeds compared to other providers, he said.

“These companies, with some small exceptions … are on what they call 3G so the prices are much lower,” said Klass.

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

Not everyone needs 10 GB of data at the fastest speeds, said Samayoa. But having data, and a good amount of it, shouldn’t be considered a luxury, he said.

“Many people actually need it for work, or their only form of communication, especially in rural communities,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have access to broadband internet and their only access to internet is through mobile services.”

Those who live in rural areas, as well as reserves, have trouble accessing the internet at basic speeds, according to a 2019 CRTC report.

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Companies like K-Net, a First Nations-owned and -operated provider, work to provide internet and phone services to remote First Nations communities and bridge connection gaps. Qiniq is another network that services 25 communities in Nunavut to improve broadband services for Inuit communities. Ice Wireless, which operates in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, states on its website that it is expanding coverage to more remote areas across Northern Canada.

The need for affordable data plans, especially in these communities, is still not an option available from many providers, explained Samayoa.

How to find the best plan that works for you

If you truly want the cheapest price on a cellphone plan, don’t switch to a financing option every time a new phone comes out, said Samayoa. 

“What I would recommend is people could bring their own device,” he said. “It gives you more flexibility to do some price shopping, and generally, the prices when you bring your own device are cheaper.”

READ MORE: Regulator asks Canadian telecoms to stop 36-month phone financing

Bringing your own phone means you likely won’t be tied to a contract, so if another provider comes out with a discounted plan, you can switch, he said. 

Klass recommends questioning your provider about extra fees.

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Figure out what you want in advance, including your habits from how often you travel and whether getting a new phone is the best option, Klass said. 

“There really isn’t any sort of one size fits all solution here … the prices change all the time.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with recent data from the CTRC.

 

Olivia.Bowden@globalnews.ca