Trying to pick a cell phone provider in Canada is a bit like when you tried to predict who was going to win Game of Thrones. While there are definitely some major players to consider, you can spend hours analyzing the tiny details, trying to figure out why one has a better shot than another. Do you choose one of the big, predictable players? Or opt for one of the younger, edgier competitors? In the end, the whole ordeal of getting a phone plan on arrival in Canada might be so stressful it can make you wonder why you ever moved at all.
Hold up — don’t stress! We’ve put together this guide to empower you to find the best phone plan for your needs. And that’s the first important thing to understand: there is no single Canadian phone provider, or phone plan, that is the best for everyone. You have to do some research to figure out the options and figure out which phone plan fits your needs as a new arrival in Canada.
If you’re completely new to the market in Canada, there are a few things you need to know before comparing phone providers. Do you know the difference between a Bring Your Own device (BYO) plan vs. purchasing through your provider? What about the benefits of a prepaid phone plan vs. a monthly contract? If not, check out these articles before reading any further:
- Getting a Canadian phone: A newcomer’s guide to understanding Canadian cell phones
- Prepaid or Contract: What is the best type of phone plan for newcomers to Canada?
Who are the major cell phone providers in Canada, and who’s the best?
Canada is known for having very expensive phone plans, especially when it comes to data. One of the reasons Canadian phone plans are so expensive is that there is not much competition on the market. In most European countries, there are many telecom providers competing with one another for customers, and this competition drives down prices.
In Canada, there are only three big players on the market: Rogers, Telus, and Bell. These companies are known as the Big Three in Canadian telecom services.
But, if you’ve done your research, you’re thinking, “Wait a minute! I’ve definitely heard of other cell phone providers. What about Fido, Virgin, Koodo, or Public Mobile?”
Well, as it turns out, most of the smaller, younger cell phone providers are actually owned by the Big Three. They are what are referred to as “flanker brands,” usually branded and marketed to appeal to a younger demographic than their parent brands.
Canadian cell phone plans are expensive because these three companies own the market, more or less, and while they do provide competition to one another, it is not at the level needed to drive the prices down to those seen in other countries. Canada also has strict laws preventing foreign companies from entering the market, further entrenching the hold of the Big Three over mobile prices.
The easiest way to understand Canada’s phone provider options is to understand them in three groupings:
Generally, each of the phone providers in each of these groupings provides almost identical services for almost identical prices. If one provider in one grouping changes their options, there’s a good chance that the other two will follow suit.
Each grouping is aimed at a different type of customer. We’ve taken the time to compare each grouping based on the factors that are important to you: coverage area, BYO options, phone purchasing options, family options, prepaid vs. postpaid options, and affordability of data.
- A note on coverage area: As Canada’s three telecom giants, Rogers, Telus, and Bell operate on the most wide-reaching networks the country has to offer. If you live in an urban area in Canada, you’ll be within the coverage area for these companies. This also includes the flanker brands. Since the coverage area is so similar among all nine of these companies, we won’t include that in our comparison.
That said, Canada is a massive country and so if you’ll be living in a rural area or smaller town, away from a city, you’ll want to check the networks before buying a phone plan. Telus and Bell actually share the same mobile network and, as such, are able to provide coverage to more rural areas than Rogers. But, again, if you’ll be living in a rural area, ask about coverage before you buy.
In a select few Canadian provinces, other provincial telecom providers are on the market, providing residents with extra options. Be sure to check out the province-specific options if your plans involve Saskatchewan, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, or British Columbia.
Now, are you ready to learn the details of the Big Three and their flankers?
The “Big Three”: Rogers, Telus, and Bell
In addition to being the companies that own the flanker brands, Rogers, Telus, and Bell also offer their own distinct telecom services. In each province, the Big Three offer a different range of telecom services, including phone services, internet, and television. The flanker brands are phone providers exclusively and do not offer home internet or cable services. In this article, we are only focusing on mobile phone services.
Remember these three companies offer nearly identical services for nearly identical prices.
Unlimited data: All Big Three companies have recently introduced the first mobile plans for unlimited data in Canada. These plans give customers a limit of high speed data per month: either 10GB, 20GB, or 50GB, and once that limit has been reached, the customer can still use data, but the speed is throttled to a much slower rate.
These plans are on the pricier end, with the 10GB plans beginning at $75 for BYO device and $95/month if you’re purchasing a phone through the provider. For the 50GB plans, you can expect to pay $125/month for a BYO plan.
Family options: All Big Three companies offer options for purchasing multiple phone lines, so if you’re buying phone plans for your whole family, you’ll want to consider these companies. The discounts vary from company to company. Both Bell and Rogers are currently offering a $10 discount for additional lines, but the only available plans are the unlimited data plans listed above. Telus offers a bit more customization with their family plans.
In Canada, these family plans often use “shared data,” which isn’t an option in all countries. Data-sharing allows multiple phone lines to be connected to the same shared pool of available monthly data.
However, even if you are purchasing phone plans for yourself and your family, you can find cheaper options for talking, texting, and data. But, if you’re a family with big data needs, these may be the companies to shop with.
Bringing Your Own device: All three of these companies offer BYO options. But, unless you’re looking for an unlimited data plan, the best BYO options lie with the flanker brands.
Purchasing a new phone: While the Big Three offer a full selection of new phones to choose from, their purchasing options are simply not as competitive as the 1st Level Flanker Brands (Fido, Koodo, and Virgin Mobile).
Prepaid plans: Rogers, Telus, and Bell each offer prepaid plans, but the best prepaid plans are with the 2nd Level Flanker Brands. With the Big Three, you’ll pay more and get less if you decide to go the prepaid route.
1st Level Flanker Brands: Koodo, Virgin Mobile, and Fido
The 1st Level flanker brands are Koodo, Virgin Mobile, and Fido. A quick glance at the websites of each of these companies will show you a young, sleek design: marketing designed to appeal to younger buyers in the market (maybe that’s you!).
These three companies are owned by the Big Three:
- Koodo is owned by Telus
- Virgin is owned by Bell
- Fido is owned by Rogers
Again, the services provided by each of these companies are very similar and are priced at nearly identical levels. Let’s look at how the 1st level flankers compare to the Big Three and the 2nd level flankers:
Purchasing a device through your provider: If you want to purchase a device through a provider, you will want to work with one of these companies. Hands down, they offer the largest selection of phones with the best options for paying these phones off.
Each of the companies uses a slightly different system for paying off your new device, but at their core they are similar. You can expect to sign on to a contract with your provider, typically 24 months in duration. Then, you will pay a slightly inflated price for your phone plan. At the end of the contract your device will be paid off.
But take note, if you choose to break your contract before your device is paid off, you will have to pay off the remaining balance owing on your phone. For example, if you have a 12-month work permit for Canada and you are unsure about staying longer, it may not be wise to sign up for a 24-month contract.
Customer Service & Rewards: Koodo, Virgin, and Fido are known for their high levels of customer service, allowing you to communicate with a representative in-person, by phone, email, and livechat. In addition, they offer perks and rewards to their customers. Offers on exclusive plans, device upgrades, loyalty data, and deals with other businesses in Canada are common examples of their perks, but you’ll have to check with each provider to see what options they have running now.
No Unlimited Data: None of the 1st level flanker brands offer unlimited data plans. If you’re an internet addict with a need for infinite data, your only options are to head to the top and sign up with Rogers, Bell, or Telus, or spend your life jumping from place to place looking for decent WiFi.
No Family Plans: Koodo, Virgin, and Fido are branded for younger, more independent customers, not so much for families. As such, none of these providers offer dedicated options for families. That said, depending on your needs, it may be more affordable to purchase your family individual lines through one of the 1st level flankers, as the majority of family plans offered by Rogers, Bell, and Telus, are expensive plans with lots of features, and maybe everyone in your family doesn’t need a plan that large.
BYO device & Prepaid: These companies offer BYO options and prepaid plans. However, the BYO and prepaid options offered by the 2nd level flankers are cheaper. That said, if you’re a fan of extra perks or you want to be sure about your customer service experience, Fido, Virgin, and Koodo are worth considering.