Tools to help you pick the best Canadian cellphone plan

The Wattson app allows users to track usage via their smartphone. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

TORONTO – If you’re frustrated with confusing cellphone bills and the amount of time it takes to compare providers when choosing a plan, two new Canadian-developed tools might be just what you need.

Celagora launched the first version of its website two weeks ago: a free tool that asks you to provide your average monthly cellphone usage.

You enter estimates of how many minutes you talk, how much text and data you need, plus whether you want call display, voicemail, or unlimited evening and weekend calling. You can also check or uncheck certain providers. Then when you click “view,” the site links to the plan in question (though doesn’t take into account your location).

“We built a program that will receive alerts whenever there’s modifications on one of the plans on any provider,” said co-founder Ilies Hassani, which means his two engineering colleagues are constantly working to update their database with the newest smartphone plans from provider website information.

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The Celagora team is made up of three Montrealers, each about five years out of university. They got the idea when they were still in school.

Hassani was working as a customer service representative for Fido, and his friend Nadir Marcos was overwhelmed by the number of plans to choose from.

“We figured that most people don’t know their needs. So we ran a survey on [Polytechnique] campus and realized most people knew their plan but didn’t really know if they had enough minutes, enough data, enough texts,” said Hassani. “The idea [is to] help people determine their needs and save plenty of time shopping around, because plans change all the time and there are so many.”

The site currently has between 500 to 1,000 users visiting per day, with 75 per cent of those in Montreal, and the rest from Toronto.

Hassani said the team—which also includes French engineer Guillaume Marcade—has started with Canada-wide providers, but hopes to expand to other companies like SaskTel and Mobilicity.

He emphasizes the importance of adapting to feedback, and said a postal code search that could filter plans based on their availability in your location could be the next feature added. Users are also suggesting the option to select specific devices since some companies’ stocks are limited when it comes to the latest smartphones.

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“But this is just the first version—the whole idea was to import the usage from someone’s call history and to analyze the usage, and offer the best plan on the market according to someone’s past 12 months,” he said.

Submitting your personal past cellphone bill data is also the hook of a Toronto-based project called Aria, which is still in development. Aria promises to identify errors and suggest best plans based on usage.

Data management security experts Robert Burnes and partner Tim Donnelly have used software to analyze business cellphone plans in the past, but want to make their tool available to the everyday consumer for $1/month.

“We’ve done that in the past where we look at a business’ cellphone invoice for the month. They may have 300 phones or devices on that bill, we analyze all that data, and provide a report to our client, saying, ‘Hey here’s some opportunities to improve your bill, and here are the following errors on your bill,’” said Burnes, a Queen’s University MBA graduate.

Users would make their cellphone bills available to the Aria system with a password, and Burnes says their software would be “virtually identical to what banks use” in terms of security.

“Statistically, five per cent of every invoice has errors,” said Burnes, who notes there are 40 different error types that occur on bills.

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Duplications, being incorrectly billed by the minute versus the second for dropped calls and unfair roaming charges are all errors that Burnes says are hard for the average cellphone owner to identify, and not everyone even takes a second glance at their bill.

However, he notes the opportunity for improvement is largely due to the plan type, rather than the errors. Burnes suggests Canadians are overspending 20 to 30 per cent on each bill because they’re on the wrong plan.

“At this point, the service is to provide consumers with a detailed report every month on the errors, better rate plans based on their usage that are available with their existing provider, and the third tranche is to survey the entire market of rate plans and make a recommendation on the best in the market,” he said.

Burnes says the Aria project will launch on crowdfunding site Indiegogo as early as next week, as they need money to build servers with the algorithms that can analyze bills. You can subscribe to their email list for more information or to show your support for the project.

“If we’re successful in what we do, Rogers, Bell and Telus will move to plans that are not confusing, that are simple,” said Burnes. “We want to get the big guys down to level the playing field.”

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