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Cheap Smartphone Plans in Canada

After managing to snag myself a Google Nexus 4 in the second round of offering, I found myself searching for a suitable cell phone plan here in Canada. As an avid Mr Money Mustache reader, I was astounded to see that he was able to get a $10/month plan in the US. Seeing as I’m cheap, I had to find the best cheap smartphone plan I could in Canada. This has proven difficult.

In Canada, there seems to be two main factors when trying to determine what is a suitable cell phone plan:

  1. Your Location
    • If you live in a major metropolitan area in Canada, you have a couple really fantastic options that give you pretty much unlimited everything.
    • If you live outside those metropolitan areas, or leave them on a semi-regular basis, you’re screwed.
  2. Your Usage
    • If you are a reasonably heavy user, there are lots of plans that offer huge blocks of minutes and multiple GB of data (or even unlimited everything) for all roughly the same price. It’s not exactly cheap but if you plan on using the smartphone that much, you’re stuck paying the price.
    • Unfortunately, if you are  a rather light user who only makes the occasional call when you’re late for a meeting or trying to arrange who’s picking up the kids from where ever, you’re screwed.

Now, if you are one of the “lucky” ones, you live (and work and stay) in a major metropolitan area and are a reasonably heavy user. In that case, just go get yourself one of the unlimited plans from Wind Mobile or Mobilicity and stop reading this post since you aren’t going to find anything cheaper. For ~$40/mon (or less depending on the current offering) you’ll get unlimited everything. I’d be all over that and we’d get rid of the home phone if we could get those smartphone plans for those prices where we live.

If you are a heavy user and don’t live in an area covered by Wind Mobile or Mobilicity, well, you’re screwed. Rogers* or Bell* might be your best options, especially if you can bundle your service with existing home TV or internet to get discounts. Telus* is another option. You can keep reading and consider one of the options below but heavy users are going to pay a lot. Sorry!

For those of us who aren’t heavy users and/or who don’t live in major metropolitan areas in Canada, keep reading.

Analysis Criteria

Due to the two main factors, I’m going to create a hypothetical user who we’ll call, uh, Jeff. Yeah, hypothetically.

Jeff needs coverage both in a metropolitan area and in a more rural area. His voice usage is typically less than 5 minutes per week because he is either at work with a desk phone or at home but he does have a very non-Mustachian commute. Due to his need for rural coverage though he does need to make or receive an occasional long distance call, lets say once a week for 1 minute. He averages 10 outgoing texts a week (and receives more than he can count). Since Jeff is typically bathed in the warmth of WiFi at home or in his office (and he hunts for free WiFi everywhere), he doesn’t really need much in the way of data. 100MB or less of data in a month would be more than sufficient.

Now, one feature I, err, hypothetical Jeff, has to have is call display. If the plan doesn’t offer call display, I haven’t even considered it as I won’t pay extra for a basic service like that.

All in, this is a very basic user that seems very typical based on my sample of co-workers and friends. If this isn’t the type of user you are then what follows probably doesn’t apply fully to you.

Cheapest Prepaid Option with Data

For $5-10 you can get a prepaid SIM card from Virgin Mobile and get the $0.35/min and $0.20/text prepaid plan. Another $10/mon for the 100MB/mon data add-on and presto, you have what might be the winning cheap smartphone plan available in Canada. Well, sort of.

Based on Jeff’s usage, this is going to cost him $10 + ($0.35 * 5 + $0.35 (for the 1 minute of long distance) + 5 * $0.20 ) * 4 weeks = $22.40/month. WTF? That’s not cheap!

No, it’s not cheap and if you happen to increase your voice usage or texting for any reason, you can quickly chew up your prepaid credit. And of course, 100MB of data isn’t going to go far if you aren’t careful so be prepared for the $0.15/MB overage fee.

Cheapest Prepaid Option with No Data

If you decide that you don’t need data at all, the cheapest basic cell phone plan I could find with no data was from Petro Canada Mobile. Well, as far as I can tell they don’t have a data option. There is a $10/mon browsing add-on but those typically don’t allow “full data access” on a smartphone.

Anyways, for $15 you get a prepaid SIM and their rate is $0.25/min for voice and $0.10/text. There appears to be a $1.25/mon fee for “911 services” but it’s not clear on the website how that is billed.

Cheapest Postpaid (Monthly) Option with Optional Data

At the moment this appears to be Virgin Mobile with their $20/month plan – 50min/month, unlimited text. Although Koodo Mobile offers a very similar plan.

Now, it’s not actually $20/month as that plan doesn’t include data but it does have the “Pay Per Use” data option so if you don’t use data in a month, there is no cost. It’s $5/mon for up to 25MB and $10/month for up to 100MB of data but if you go over that, the tiered rates aren’t too painful. So lets call it $30/month.

One nice feature with the current Virgin offer is that the 50 min/month is also valid for long distance calls within Canada. Very handy for Jeff’s situation.

As mentioned, Koodo Mobile offers a very similar plan but their tiered data rate sort of sucks in the off chance you “need” to use more than 250MB of data one month. Some of the other carriers also have a similar $20/mon plan but they don’t seem to offer the tiered data which means they become $30/mon plans for 100MB with hefty overage charges.

Finally, Virgin Mobile is currently offering a 10% discount on monthly plans if you bring your own phone. That’s a nice little differentiator which would turn this into a $27/mon plan with <100MB of data. That’s a whole $3/mon less than anywhere else I could find.

It looks like Virgin Mobile’s offering is the (current) cheapest smartphone plan in Canada.

Some Final Notes

I’m currently a Virgin Mobile prepaid customer and have been for a really long time. I’m currently using my Nexus 4 on Virgin Mobile Canada Prepaid but I haven’t enabled the data plan yet. It is possible (I checked before getting the Nexus 4) but they make it sort of difficult to do and I haven’t had enough time to set it up.

This exercise to find a cheap cell phone plan surprised me as I wasn’t expecting Virgin Mobile to be the “cheapest” option, especially considering they are now fully owned by Bell.

$20/month appears to be the cheapest option for 50-75 minutes of voice with unlimited texting and no data. Multiple companies have this but Virgin and Koodo have the tiered data rate whereas the others don’t.

I’d love to hear your feedback and if you have any comments and/or corrections. If you find anything cheaper, please, add it in the comments below.

Title Image Credit: feverblue

* I won’t give any direct link love to Rogers, Bell or Telus. I don’t think any of them offers reasonable pricing for any of their services. Oddly, Virgin is owned by Bell and Koodo is owned by Telus so I’m not sure how they can offer such different cell phone rates.