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By President, Techaholic Inc. on in

Okay, I’m hot and bothered right now. Over the past week, I’ve had one sole purpose. I want a secondary mobile phone. Perhaps you want a mobile phone in case of emergency or you want a phone that provides a greater coverage area than the service you currently have. If you’re greedy like me, maybe you want a mobile phone that can double as who has the cheapest christmas photo cards a data stick. The question I’m trying to answer is this:

If I want a mobile phone in Canada, what is the very least that I can pay?

If you’re like me, you’re wanting a smartphone or cell phone but you simply do not want to be sucked into the monthly expense. See that’s the trick with mobile phones and the plans that are offered. You get sucked into a monthly commitment because frankly that’s just a good business model. You can’t blame the companies like Telus, Rogers or Bell for that. They exist to make money.

Ultimately I want complete control over what I pay for my mobile phone. Yes I need to buy a cell phone or smartphone but once I own it, I want to limit my calls as much as possible in an effort to save money. In reality we use mobile phones all the time, but in realistic terms we can limit the use substantially. For starters how about keeping your mobile phone number to yourself? That’s trick #1 but naturally it’s too late for most of us to do that now. You can always not answer in those instances and let voice mail or call history take over but that’s a bit unfriendly.

When I say the very least to pay, I really mean it. If you’re good at this game, you can have the advantage of a mobile phone but avoid the constant nagging bills that come with it. Right now I’m wanting the following features:

  • pay by the minute
  • call display
  • call forwarding
  • voice mail
  • flexibility to add data on any given month
  • data tethering / mobile wi-fi hotspot

Of course most of the prepaid or pay as you go plans also offer 3-way calling and call waiting as a freebies. So right now based on my criteria I can’t look at Wind Mobile because they want an absurd per month for voice mail. In addition they have the worst coverage out of all the pay as you go options out there. Email me if you find any worse coverage please! Data is something that’s critical for what I want in a pay as you go plan. What I’ve found is that tethering (using your phone as a wifi connection for another mobile device such as a tablet or laptop) is not typically a feature in these plans. Petro Canada Mobility confirmed with me that no, they do not support or allow tethering or wifi hotspots with their data addon. This is also the policy of 7-11 Speakout.

Let me just say that I’ve had a 7-11 Speakout phone for a couple of years. No real issues other than I gave that phone to a relative and they own it. I’m back in the market for the cheapest possible pay as you go phone in Canada. With my recent experience in the past week, I am regretting simply not going back to 711 Speakout.

Here is what I’ve discovered about pay as you go or anytime plans in Canada. I’m going to possibly save you some real frustration but perhaps I’m in the ignorant minority group on this. The fact is a lot of the pay as you go plans give you time limits to use your minutes. Think for a moment about this. You wanted the phone to save as much money as possible, yet you have to use the minutes you paid for in a certain time limit or they go bye-bye. If you’re attempting to do what I’m doing, then this should be your #1 consideration in which pay as you go plan to choose. In other words if you’re very clever and very efficient in using your any time minutes, you’re not going to be benefiting because the clock is ticking. In fact you would be surprised just how short a time you have to use your minutes up. What I’m discovering is that the less you top up on your phone, the less time you are given to use your minutes. In general, pay as you go plan top ups at 0 generally get you a 365 day expiry. The more you spend, the more generous the expiry. If you’re thinking of spending a small amount for airtime? Expect that your expiry will happen quickly unless you’re with 7-11 Speakout.

PC Mobile

PC Mobile was my first choice this week. I was excited and they have one of the cheapest per minute charge of.20 cents. After an ordeal in actually getting a PC Mobile sim card, it wasn’t until I sat down and looked at the talk time minutes card fine print that I realized my mistake. Sure it’s printed on the front of the card, but somehow that white print on gray background at the bottom of the card hardly seemed obvious. I didn’t see this information on the website when checking plans. That said, the card says that airtime expired 60 days after activation. This means? It meant a lot of anger and frustration. Understand that I came from 7-11 Speakout where your added airtime has a 365 day expiry. Imagine my surprise after speaking to PC Mobile support and they said the 0 card is valid for a year (balance can be carried over provided you spend on another top up), the card is good for 60 days and the is good for 30 days. Given that information, what is the point of bothering? It’s a good as a monthly plan. I call that misleading and aggravating for somebody like me who ignorantly expected more flexibility in expiry dates.

I will say that PC Mobile is disorganized. Their website is outdated and those self serve kiosks don’t even exists in any store I contacted. Instead they are being replaced with new “in-store” mobile phone shops/counter. Nice, but the staff were clueless about the PC Mobile sim cards. When I asked them about the PC Mobile prepaid phones they suggested they didn’t even have any. To anyone looking at PC Mobile, just be forewarned that their website and support appears to be on a completely different page than these new Superstore “in-store” mobile shops. I spoke to many different people at many different Superstore locations trying to track down the self serve kiosks and not one location said they had them. Based on my experience with the staff at these in-store mobile phone shops, I don’t know where you can buy the phones that are shown on the PC Mobile website. Good luck, you’ll need it. I should give credit for the phone support because they were excellent and able to answer my questions. The issue appears to be in the Superstore locations. Get on the same page people!

I’m working on a PC Mobile review because the experience so far is worthy. Let’s just say it’s been interesting so far! I did get a credit so that SIM card which cost basically was free.

7-11 Speakout

As I mentioned earlier, 711 Speakout is pretty much the best solution out there for the cheapest prepaid plan or pay as you go solution. The biggest selling point is that you get a 365 day expiry date on airtime, regardless if it’s a small top up. It’s very unfortunate that the lack of competition in Canada for mobile phone plans has led to this situation. Perhaps you can suggest a theory why it is that for almost all the pay as you go plans in Canada, the only way you can get 365 day expiry is if you spend 0 for airtime. Considering that it’s across the board, it appears that these companies are cooperating with each other in this regard.

There is one major issue with 7-11 Speakout. Data usage. As of June 30, 2013 they are discontinuing their web/data plans. Their website suggests soon they will announce a new pay as you go data plan but on the phone they can’t give an idea when the announcement will come. Right now, I can confirm that 7-11 Speakout does not allow you to tether or create a wifi mobile hotspot. It’s hard to say whether this upcoming Speakout Data plan will include the option to tether. If it does, the 7-11 Speakout is a pretty clear winner in the Canadian prepaid market.

For my set of criteria, call forwarding doesn’t come with 7-11 Speakout. Perhaps not a deal breaker for you, but I really want that flexibility. PC Mobile (see below) does have it as a free feature.

Petro Canada Mobility

I’m sure some of you are just learning for the first time that Petro-Canada has mobile phones. It’s true! They run on the Rogers network. I think the closest comparison would be 711 Speakout which means this is a good option. For me, they unfortunately don’t offer call forwarding and do not allow data tethering. That said, this may be good option even though it’s essentially the exact same as 7-11 Speakout. You can add for a month of unlimited mobile web browsing, but with 7-11 ditching their similar web browsing, I would think Petro-Canada will be changing or removing this option in the near future. The reason Petro Canada Mobile gets a decent review by me is because they have a bit more flexibility with their Anytime Plans and the airtime you buy. Spend you get 1 month expiry, spend you get 4 months expiry, spend you get 6 months expiry and 0 gets you the industry standard 365 days expiry. In a head-to-head comparison, 7-11 Speakout still is the best option because they allow for a 365 expiry on a top up.

Virgin Mobile Canada

If you want an exercise in frustration, go to the Virgin Mobile Canada website and try to collect the information about their prepaid plans. Better yet, see what you can find out about their pay by the minute plans. The information is scattered. That said, it appears that the Virgin Mobile Canada pay as you go (pay per minute) is very similar to that of PC Mobile. This makes sense because both PC Mobile and Virgin use the Bell network. For me, I’m looking at Virgin vs. PC Mobile.

I couldn’t establish whether Virgin Mobile prepaid gives you call forwarding and voice mail as a free feature. I can say that their per minute charge is.35 cents in comparison to PC Mobile is.20 cents. That’s pretty big! The data addon plans are priced at the exact same so no winner there.  The all important expiry dates for purchased airtime? About the same I’m sad to report. If you pay 0 you will get 365 days to use the airtime, otherwise you’re looking at 60 day expiration dates.

Wind Mobile

As mentioned earlier, the biggest issue with Wind is their limited coverage. That said, I don’t know how their system works when you are out of the Wind Zone because when you have their regular plans, you get charged roaming. You get the coverage when out of the Wind Zone, but you pay per minute. Since on the pay as you go you pay.20 cents per minute, does that apply for areas outside their zone in the roaming areas? I’m not sweating it and perhaps you have the answer. Please let people know in the comments below.

So coverage aside, Wind Mobile prepaid isn’t for me. You have to pay /month for voice mail. In addition you can’t buy a data addon, but have to pay /MB used. They have the same 0 for 365 expiry, but they do have one option which provides a 180 day expiry. For me, these non available feature or paid addons are not acceptable to me. Remember I’m looking for the cheapest option out there but at the same time I have a set of features that I need.

Telus Mobility, Rogers, Bell, Etc.

I’m not going to bother sorting through hundreds of website pages trying to establish the pricing and options for prepaid or pay as you go with the big companies. Yes there are many others but they are owned by the big three. I think it’s far fetched to think there is a white knight among any of the other carriers. I’m not arrogant enough to think I know everything, so please contact me or add a comment below if you beg to differ or have found something super juicy out there.

Why Pay As You Go and Prepaid Plans In Canada Stink

I’ve come to the realization that shopping for mobile phones in Canada is frustrating. I’ve found it to be time consuming and I’ve found it very difficult to get the information I want from the company websites. Information is buried behind fluff more times than not.

My biggest complaint is with the bogus expiry dates on purchased air time. Please educate me on this. How is it possible that across the board, all the companies require you to spend 0 a year in order to get the 365 day expiry. Don’t you feel that 7-11 Speakout is going to get forced into conforming to the industry standard? It’s almost like a gas war. One company does it for a while, but then everyone magically settles into the same price. Notice that the deals go away? I wonder the reasoning for it. Perhaps it makes sense and I’m ignorant (I admit that) and completely out to lunch.

If you buy a gift card, those never expire thanks to serious consumer complaining. Why then are consumers getting shafted on having to use up their prepaid airtime in 30 days or 60 days? I understand that prices change and it’s not realistic to have no expiry date. That said, clearly on the PC Mobile air time cards it says the card itself won’t expire, but it’s only after activated that it will expire. Not sure, but sounds like a loophole to me. Imagine a gift card for Future Shop for 0. So imagine if you spent one day on an item, suddenly that card has an active expiry in 60 days because you’ve “activated” or “used” it. Tell me I’m wrong, but this is nuts. Isn’t that exactly what the mobile phone companies are doing with these air time cards? The only way to make sense of it is that mobile phone companies in Canada don’t want people to have the ability to pay less for a mobile phone. I would suggest that there are many many thousands of Canadians who would love an emergency or secondary phone that they could use a few times a month and not pay per month. That is really what I think.

Cheapest Prepaid Plan – Pay Per Minute Plan In Canada

If you break down 0 per year for pay as you go, it’s going to put you just below per month. With 7-11 Speakout, you can spend and have it last 365 days. That would put you at per month for an emergency mobile phone or secondary phone with 7-11. When you consider that price variance of say /month vs. /month, you can see just how good the 7-11 Speakout prepaid plan is. That said, do you really think it’s going to last?

Which Pay As You Go Am I Choosing?

This has been a hard decision and I may change my mind in the near future. I’m not sure whether the 7-11 Speakout Data plan will give me what I need and only time will tell. I’m excited to see what they come up with. Although my ignorance initially caused me some anger towards PC Mobile, I’m pretty much stuck with them. Actually PC Mobile is a good choice for me because I can deal with the 0 for 365 days. The reason is because I need a data addon a few times in the year and spending or for a month of data comes out of my balance. I should have no trouble really using up my 0 in a year. Of course I need to evaluate this situation later, but for now they have everything I need and ultimately have the greatest number of features and the best data addon available in pay as you go.

Other Factors To Consider When Choosing Canadian Prepaid

If you’re like me wanting a pay per minute prepaid plan, there are a few other issues that may come up. Do you plan on letting the prepaid minutes on your phone expire or run out? The fact is you can lose your phone number. It seems every company has a different time frame as to when your phone number dies because of account inactivity.

Another important consideration is setting up a way for airtime to automatically be added to your phone if you run out of time. I’ve had a couple bad situations with my 7-11 Speakout phone in this regard. Imagine taking an important call or needing to make an important call and your phone says it’s out of airtime! You don’t want this to happen! Most, if not all prepaid plans and pay as you go plans have some sort of option for automatic top ups. This is very important.

If you want the cheapest mobile phone plan in Canada, be smart about it!

You’re going to get a new phone number for your mobile phone. Since you’re reading this article, you care about saving money. One way to defeat your savings it to share your new mobile phone number with every friend and relative that you have. What you can do is either keep it to yourself as much as possible or you can at least tell people that you pay by the minute only call for important issues. Instead of sounding rude, it’s probably best not to offer up your number in the first place. With my 7-11 Speakout mobile phone, I shared the number with my wife and my closest family only.

The fact is when you talk on these mobile phones on these plans, if you speak for 10 seconds, you get charged the full minute. If you talk for 1 minute and 2 seconds, you’re paying for 2 minutes. It might not sound like much but it can add up and deplete your air time rather quickly. The best advice is to get in and get out. If you find yourself needing longer phone calls or you’re simply getting to many calls, you may have to simply accept the fact that pay as you go isn’t best for you.

This is a work in progress so please check back…


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