What To Look For In A Cell Phone Plan

Ten years ago getting a cell phone was a big deal. I didn’t have cell service where I grew up so it didn’t make sense to get a phone until I was in university. Cellphone shopping back in 2005 gave you the choice of 5 phones through 3 different providers.  One of the providers had an unofficial monopoly in Manitoba and could set the rates for the rest of the market.  So I went with a MTS flip phone (which was indestructible by the way) and off I went.

A few years later, the cell phone coverage increased and I was able to get service in my home town with MTS. A few years after that, Rogers jumped on board and started to share cell towers with MTS. This was a big game changer because now there were options in the market and a customer could start looking for the best deal for them…not get the only option out there.

Here is the process I came up with when deciding on what to look for in a cell phone plan.

Evaluate your Usage

What To Look For In A Cell Phone Plan
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If you have a phone already, take a look at your usage for the last 3 months (look at your bills).  You can use this to determine your voice/data usage and narrow down your search for plans later on.  If you are changing your lifestyle (such as moving from home to school), you will want to take this into consideration.

Voice Minutes – How many outgoing minutes? How many are incoming (some plans charge extra for that)? How many minutes are long distance?

Data Usage – Do you use a lot of data? Using Facebook doesn’t take too much data, but if you stream a lot of videos it can start to add up. Most smartphones have apps where you can record your usage if you are unsure. If your phone has Wi-Fi capabilities and its always turned on then your phone will pull its data usage from the Wi-Fi network before your cell phone plan.  I work at a university which has pretty good Wi-Fi access, plus I also have it at home so I leave it on all the time to reduce my data usage.

Texts – How many texts did you send, and how many did you receive?  Do you send lots of picture/video messages?  Keep in mind that Facebook messages, Snapchat, Skype, etc all use your data plan, not your texting package.

What Do You Use A Phone For?

I use my phone for everything. I use it to browse the internet and spend countless hours on my favorite apps. I don’t make many calls with it but when I do, it usually is long distance.  I use the data portion a lot more than the voice features and I think that is what most Gen Y’s do these days.

Some people prefer “old school” phones that don’t have any data plans because they don’t like the distractions they offer.  Some people don’t like the small screens on smartphones, so they would rather have an Ipad that they use their cell plan with.

In some areas, it helps to use your phone as a way to get internet in your home. Some rural areas don’t have any options for high-speed internet. You could get mobile internet sticks, but they can get to be pretty expensive.  If you are able to find a plan with unlimited data, and the ability to tether for free, you are set.

Once you know your habits then you can start looking at different cell phone providers.

Cell Coverage

This one is pretty straight forward:  If you’re living in an urban center, your coverage will be pretty spot on because you will be in the central coverage area.  Manitoba and Saskatchewan have varying coverage with the big carriers. Rogers/Fido does not work in rural Saskatchewan, whereas Bell and Telus do not work in rural Manitoba.

If you travel a lot then there may be roaming fees associated with your account for both data and voice usage. If you go with a provincial cell phone company (such as Sask-tel, MTS, etc), there are usually higher charges if you venture out of their coverage area.

*Note* Cell phone calls are based on proximity to their towers. So if you are not in your local coverage area you might not get nailed with long distance charges.

    • Winnipeg local number in Winnipeg calling someone in Winnipeg = local minutes consumed
    • Winnipeg local number in Winnipeg calling someone in Calgary = long distance charges
    • Winnipeg local number in Calgary calling someone in Calgary = local minutes consumed

Companies such as Telus, Rogers, and Bell have countrywide networks so it doesn’t matter where you are in regards to roaming (unless you are in SK and MB).

Another thing to note is that Rogers and Bell own smaller companies that fall under their network. Fido is owned and operated by Rogers so they have the same coverage. Telus owns Koodo and a few others. You can see a full listing of Canada’s cell phone providers and who owns them.

Bundle packages

This isn’t a huge deal for me because I don’t use too many services. Most of the companies have bundling capabilities so if you are happy with a company’s services, you may want to stick with them to keep things simple.  There are only two options for hard wired internet in Manitoba: MTS and Shaw. MTS also has TV and home phones so you can save $15 per month if you use all of their services. Unfortunately they are not competitive with their cell phone plans so it doesn’t make sense to bundle with them.  In other provinces where there are more services such as Rogers/Telus TV, this is a bigger issue.

Phone Availability

Some companies have bragging rights to carrying some of the top phones on the market. If you want a certain phone and only one carrier has it then you are stuck with them.  Some phones are not transferable to other providers either so if you want to switch later on you may not have that option with the phone you decide on using.  Luckily, cell phone providers are coming out with early upgrade plans so you can upgrade your phone earlier if you run into this issue.

Insurance

This is probably a good time to include this seeing how smartphones can cost well over $600.  Insurance isn’t offered in most plans but it is offered as an add-on. Depending on where you buy your phone/plan, you could use the store warranty such as ones offered at Best Buy or Future Shop.  Every big cell phone provider has some form of insurance policy and some manufacturers have their own version as well such as Apple Care.  There usually is a monthly cost ranging from $7-$10 per month as well as a deductible of $100-$200 depending on the value of your device.  Be sure to go over the fine print to see if it’s worthwhile to you.

Related: Is Smartphone Insurance Worth It?

Picking The Plan

After you evaluate your current cell usage (or guess what it would be if you currently don’t have a phone) you will know right away which plans are right for you.  Once you narrow it down to a few plans you can start looking at add-ons that they offer. Sometimes plans will include call display or voice-mail, where other plans will have extra fees.

The plan I have now is with Rogers and I’m quite happy with it! Here are the features:

  • Unlimited talking (local AND long distance) within Canada
  • 5 GB of data (I use around 2 GB per month)
  • Unlimited text/picture/video messaging
  • Call display and voice-mail included

This all costs me $65/month plus taxes. I like this plan because I don’t have to watch how I use it. As long as I am in Canada, I just need to watch my data usage which I always have a lot of room on.  The most important part of any plan is the next step.

Keep Evaluating

With Rogers you are allowed to switch your plan at any time, but you are not able to get the same plans you had in the past if they are no longer offered.  I was researching plans for a friend when I discovered the plan I have now. Switching over saved me $10/month and it gave me more features. Shortly after I switched over my brother and he was able to save $70/month.  Just because you sign up for a 2 year plan does not mean you need to keep that plan, or stay with that provider. Sometimes it is worth it to pay the high cancellation fees to switch to a competitor to take advantage of their plans.

Have you heard of any horror stories for people getting ripped off on a monthly basis on their cell phone plan?

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I haven’t bought a cell phone since I moved to Canada 7 years ago but I had one in the UK. It was dirt cheap to own a cell over there compared to Canada, hence why I won’t get one at the moment. My wife on the other hand has an older model phone. She evaluated her package and only needed the cheapest pkg Rogers had. It made no sense to spend money on a cell phone with a data plan or all the bells and whistles. She also has no insurance because it’s a free phone a friend gave… Read more »

I recently switched from an unlimited Data plan to a 3GB plan and saved a ton. After looking at my usage, it was clear that I wasn’t making the most of the unlimited plan, so making the switch really made sense. I’d say checking in and reevaluating what you are getting for your money is important.

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