"Get in there you big furry oaf. I don't care what you smell."
-- Han Solo

Call me baby anytime

Well, trying to meet up with folks at Bluesfest has really got me thinking it is time for me to get a cell phone. I’ve complained for years that I haven’t gotten one because I’m annoyed with the packages / don’t want to sign a contract / they aren’t up front about long distance charges. However, now that almost everyone else has a cell phone, no one wants to make a plan, they just want to play things by ear & call when they arrive. So now I am forced to go with the social flow and *groan* look into buying a cell phone.

I had a cell phone when I was in the Caribbean, and it worked very well for m; Cheap phone, prepaid service that I top up when & if I need to, prepaid minutes that are good for about 6 months, text messaging and voice mail. All I need, really. Since here in Canada I’m not giving up my landline, I just want something similar that I only use when I choose. So I’ve begun a little perusing online to see what is available.

First stop – Fido. OK, they do have the long distance rates posted. Prepaid vouchers are only good for 30 days (unless you buy the $50 voucher, which is only good for 60 days). I don’t intend to consistently use the phone enough for this, I want ot be able to put my phone down for a month withouth losing my money. Also, they don’t mention text messaging at all in the prepaid section. Finally, I’m really confused about the rates. On the one hand we have $1 per day unlimited evenings & weekends + 30 cents a minute daytime. Or, there is 30 cents a minute anytime – for the same voucher. Or are they different vouchers for the same price? Also – when & how does my $1 day start? Does it only kick in once I make my first call of the day?

Next stop, Rogers. They seem to be a little clearer with their prepaid rates, and they are upfront about long distance, but again the vouchers are only good for 30 days – unless I pay $100 bucks, then they are good for 365 days. An intriguing option… but will I use it enough in a year to justify dropping 100 clams right off the bat? Text messaging appears to be a separate monthly plan; why can’t my regular voucher also pay for texting?

Bell Mobility: Again, text messaging is a separate monthly fee, although at $10/month it’s outrageous. Furthermore, there’s a $3.95 system access fee that will be charged per month… presumably whether I use it or not… And again, prepaid cards expire within 30 or 60 days.

So, I can’t say I’m impressed with my options so far. Any ideas what other companies I should be checking out?

It’s a sad day when you can get more satisfactory service in St. Vincent and the Grenadines than you can here… I may not get that cell phone after all.

12 Responses to “Call me baby anytime”

  1. My recommendation is to stick with Bell or Telus if you want quality of service (phone service, I mean, not customer service). Telus is better with the customer service than Bell, but none of them are actually “good” with customer service.

    Stay away from Fido, as their service tends to be very city-bound (although yes, that is changing). Rogers is an OK choice, but I keep hearing of dropped calls from my friends and co-workers who are on Rogers when they’re anywhere outside the middle of the city. The other choices are Virgin Mobile and (believe it or not) President’s Choice.

    Also, get over the expiring prepaid cards–that’s just a reality of prepaid service in North America. And…prepaid minutes are more expensive than minutes on a monthly plan, so if you are going to be spending some money on a monthly basis anyway, you may want to consider just going with a monthly plan instead. As a silly servant, you probably have a couple of very good plans available to you from any of the companies.

    Last but not least…don’t rely on their websites for the real picture of what’s available. The other sad reality is that the cell phone companies don’t seem capable of putting together a usable web site. Their sites are more on the marketing, less on the detail for those of us who are able to do research without having our hands held. In general, you have to eventually talk to a human to get the full story.

  2. I feel your pain Homewrecker. I had a brief moment where I considered jumping on the cell bandwagon as well. Like you, mostly because the rest of the world is on the bandwagon and makes their plans accordingly and because I’ll be making a long car trip alone in October and thought it might be smart to bring a phone along. But I got bogged down in all the plans, couldn’t make head or tail of them. They all structure things differently, so its like comparing apples to oranges to kumquats. I eventually gave up in despair and decided it was really easier just to live without one for now…

    Kaveman, I’m not sure talking to a live person is necessarily any help (given the abysmal customer service you quoted). I’ve heard horror stories of people signing up for a $30 plan and getting charged $150 because the sales person failed to explain that the “free local minutes” only applied when you call another Telus phone.

  3. Well, people *are* idiots, after all… :-)

    Listen, if you both are having this much trouble finding a cell phone plan, just let me know what features you want and how much you’re willing to spend. I can decode the marketing crap for you…

  4. It’s not so much a question of how much I want to spend, it’s a question of how much money can I avoid wasting given that my usage is going to be sporadic at best. I reserve the right to leave my phone sitting in the bottom of a drawer for 3 months without loosing one penny of the money I’ve put into it.

    As for getting over the expiry on the prepaid cards – NOT going to happen. As I said; if they can do longer validity periods in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there is no reason they can’t do it here. In fact, let’s face it, the reason Canadian companies can get away with shorter time periods is because far too many people just “get over” it. I, on the other had, demand satisfaction, dammit! :)

    Anyway, I’ll check out Telus.

  5. Homewrecker, I applaud your conviction, but the reality is that big companies will always behave as selfishly as the market will allow them to. Apparently, the Canadian market (on average) doesn’t care as much about card expiry as the market in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. So, you can either choose to accept that, or choose to not have a cell phone.

    If you decide to go the acceptance route, I would advise you to seriously consider whether the prepaid route is really the one you want. Most monthly plans, especially with the silly servant discount, can be had for about $25 per month (which translates to about $40 after system access and taxes) and often include some level of unlimited evenings and/or weekends, a cheaper per-minute airtime rate, cheaper per-minute long-distance rate, and significant discounts on the phone itself. On a prepaid plan, you still have to pay $4 per month for system access (it’s $7 on a monthly plan), you have to pay the full price for the phone (typically you get a $200 discount on a 2-year monthly plan), and you’ll pay $0.30 per minute for airtime (which adds up pretty quick).

    To be honest, I challenge your assertion that your cell phone usage would be sporadic…you’re a pretty social person and as you’ve stated, the cell phone is the tool of social planning and coordination these days… :-)

  6. Hey, this social butterfly coordinates her social life just fine! :) It would be more convenient to have occasional use of a cell phone, but by and large I don’t need it.

    Yeah, $200 off a phone when I would be perfectly happy with an $80 phone just isn’t worth it to get stuck with a lengthy contract. Also – $4/month access fee? Now that’s gouging… I haven’t come across that bit of fine print in my searches! That basically talks me out of it.

    Apparently there’s a move afoot to allow foreign companies to provide cell phone service in Canada. Rumour has it that this might change things drastically. I think I’ll hold out until then – so I may just wait it out! Take that, big telecommunications companies!

  7. Fair enough…but, just for the record, there is no $80 phone. The prices that they flash up in big colourful letters are the prices after the discount for signing a 2 or 3 year contract. Looking at the Bell site, they’ve actually listed the “no contract” prices on their phones up front (albeit in smaller letters), which is new. The cheapest phone for prepaid service is $130, and there’s only one model at that price. The next cheapest is $230, and they go up from there. And a 2-year contract may have sounded like eternity when we were moving couches from beach to beach, but I think you need to take a look at where we are in life…2 years flies by in a heartbeat these days… :-)

    As for foreign companies…we already have that. Who do you think owns Virgin Mobile or President’s Choice? Don’t believe the “word on the street” that mumbles something about deregulation saving the day. Our wireline phone services have been increasingly deregulated over the last decade, and my landline bill has only gone up, not down.

    I’m very amused that $4 per month is enough to talk you out of a phone… :-)

  8. Well, truth be told, I wasn’t aware of Virgin operating in Canada until this Saturday… As for the “word on the street”, it did come from the person at DFAIT who works on the telecom file, but it’s a good point that foreign competitors does not equal lower prices. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen here if Digicel became one of the players. As I said, my experience overseas – and the experience of European cell phone users that I met while I was there – was drastically different from the options I was encountering with Bell etc.

    Yeah, I suppose it does seem kinda funny that $4/month will talk me out of a phone, especially after my Friday night shopping spree… :) but it is precisely by paying attention to those details that I can afford to engage in said shopping sprees. Those small monthly fees do add up! *I* for one was shocked at how your $40 cell phone bill turned into a $70 monthly bill after taxes and other add-ons. :o

    And by pointing Birdlady & I to PC, you have, indeed found us not just an $80 phone, but phones for even less… so it can be done after all! I am now cautiously optimistic. Although I’m still bummed at the money I’d lose if I only use 6 bucks of my prepaid $15 in the 30 days I’m allocated…

  9. If it helps you feel any better this is how I’m looking at it: You’re getting a $15/month plan with 75 “free” anytime minutes. As long as you top up your account before the end of the month you don’t loose the minutes and can use them in a busier month. When you consider that the cheapest of the non-prepaid plans with other companies are $20/month not including voice mail, call display and all the fees, it really is a bargain! I’m much less of a social butterfly than you are and I’m thinking I’ll probably use more than the $15 worth of minutes in an average month anyhow (it’s only 2.5 min a day, which is not a lot). And you do always have the option of not topping up and throwing the phone in a drawer if you want to…

  10. So are you guys seriously considering the PC phones? I have Bell mostly because I found out the hard way that coverage maps are only a ‘guideline’. (False advertising, anyone??) I used to get dropped calls on Rogers on the 402 between Sarnia and London – hardly the middle of nowhere. I mean COME ON. It does seem to depend on the phone, though. Kaveman would likely be able to tell you more about which phones are reliable; but I have an older Nokia flip phone, and I’ve been known to drop a call in the grocery store parking lot 4 blocks from my house, and can’t get a consistent signal at my grandfather’s house in Toronto; whereas Jamie’s old Motorola (which is bigger than our portable home phones!) NEVER drops calls and often has a signal where I don’t. Granted, neither one of us can get a signal at the cottage. (Which is probably for the best really!) Lastly, don’t forget to look for the modes that the phone will work in – you’d be surprised at the places you cannot get a digital signal and would need analog.

  11. Yup, in an e-mail conversation with Homewrecker and BirdLady, I recommended they look at the Samsung A580, which is one of the phones that PC mobile sells, and it is dual-band, tri-mode…I’ve had several Samsungs over the years (including my last two) and I haven’t regretted a single one, but Nokia and other brands are kind of hit-and-miss. Plus, you can get the A580 in pink! :-)

    PC Mobile actually uses the Bell network (like Telus does), so you should theoretically have the same coverage. For low-usage prepaid service, PC does indeed appear to be the best option…to be honest, I was a little surprised at the low price of their phones (which put the lie to my comment from a few days ago), and their overall rates. It’s still not the right option for me (I use my phone too much), but it’s certainly attractive for someone who doesn’t use their phone all that much.

  12. Oooh, pretty pink… *shudder*

    Funny how I never even thought about dropped calls when I got into this – not much of an issue on a 9 square mile island! :D

    Birdlady, I think you’re right, I’m starting to think about it that way too; an optional $15/month is probably about as good as it’s ever going to get.

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