Rogers eases roaming pain with new data plans

Rogers Communications Inc. is offering a new data plan that may take the sting out using your smartphone when travelling south of the border.

Canadians who often find themselves travelling to the U.S. for business or pleasure will likely be taking a good look at the new data plans. They are about $10 per month more expensive than Rogers’ data plans for Canada. But that’s the price of removing the border when it comes to data — no relief has been offered up for voice roaming fees.

The new plans are targeted at frequent cross-border travelers, says Gary Drouillard, product manager of roaming for Rogers.

“It doesn’t matter what side of the border you wake up on,” he says. “I think a lot of customers will find this plan is a good fit.”

The plans start at 500 MB a month for $35. Customers on the plan will deduct data from the same pool whether they are using their smartphone in the U.S. or in Canada. The plan’s design is to prevent “bill shock” – a commonplace experience when customers receive a hefty bill at the end of a month that included a short trip across the border.   

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U.S. carriers have long offered roaming plans for those who visited the Great White North on a regular basis. Verizon Wireless offers a voice plan that starts at $60 per month for 450 minutes in the U.S. and Canada. A data plan charges $130 per month for 5 GB of data.

That plan was good enough for Toronto-based Web design company Oilchange.com to switch from Rogers to Verizon as its regular carrier. That cut costs by about $1,000 a month, says co-founder Jamie Lynch.

“We’d been paying Rogers, and we switched to Verizon because we have a U.S. company that allows us to do that,” he says. The plan allows talking across Canada without extra roaming or long distance fees.

Still, Canadians spending time in the U.S. may welcome Rogers new plans. Canucks made about 3.3 million trips to the U.S. in October 2009, according to Statistics Canada. No surprise that it is Canadians’ favourite travel destination.

These new plans address a huge pain point many of those travelling Canadians have, says Mark Tauschek, lead analyst with Info-Tech Research Group.

“I’ve got to say, this is kind of a breakthrough,” he says. “I know of no other roaming plan for any other carrier anywhere in the world that does this.”

It’s so good, that it may stop Canadian companies like Oilchange.com from switching over to U.S. carriers, Tauschek adds.

That’s not the main purpose behind the plan, according to Rogers. But they acknowledge that the border-hopping does happen.

“We hear that on occasion, but that wasn’t really the driver,” Drouillard says. “For $10 more, you could stay on Rogers and that’s much more attractive than a Verizon replacement deal.”

Infrequent travelers to the U.S. can still buy a Rogers’ 30-day pass. A fee of $10 will lower the data rate to $1 per MB for smartphones and mobile Internet sticks.

Those who want to yak in the U.S. will have to plan ahead and buy discounted 30-day “travel packs”. Those start at $15 for 15 minutes, and $25 for 40 minutes and $40 for 70 minutes.

By way of comparison, Telus Mobility offers similar discounted data and voice roaming packages. The 30-day passes start at $10 for a discounted rate of $1 per MB.

Voice passes start at $5 for a discounted rate of $1 per minute, or a $10 pass at 50 cents per minute, or $20 at 25 cents per minute.

There’s no plans in the near future to offer a flat-rate roaming plan similar to what Rogers is doing, says a Telus spokesperson.

But it’s likely that Bell Canada and Telus will soon offer similar plans to respond to Rogers’ offering, Tauschek predicts. Rogers’ new, shared, HSPA network is more compatible with U.S. networks.

Travelers hoping for similar relief from voice roaming fees shouldn’t hold their breath.

“Carriers make a lot of money when people roam in the States,” Tauschek says.

Rogers has an agreement with AT&T, T-Mobil, and a patchwork of smaller carriers to make the data roaming plans work, Drouillard says.

Complete list of new Rogers roaming plans

The prices are per month:

  • $20 Personal Email on BB CDN/US   (this is $5 more than Canada-only plan)
  • $35 Consumer/Small business BB (BIS) 500MB CDN/US Plan ($10 more than Canada only plan)
  • $35 Consumer/Small business 500MB CDN & US Data Plan ($10 more than Canada only plan)
  • $40 Consumer/Small business BB (BIS) 1GB CDN & US Plan ($10 more than Canada only plan)
  • $40 Consumer/Small business 1GB CDN & US Data Plan  (($10 more than Canada only plan)
  • $45 500MB CDN & US Mobile Internet Flex Rate Plan ($10 more than Canada only plan)
  • $50 DAP (for MSD customers) 1.5GB CDN & US Data Plan (MSD = large account/group rate – $10 more than Canada only plan)
  • $55 Corporate BB (BES) 1GB CDN & US Plan ($10 more than Canada only plan)
  • $55 Corporate BB (BES) 500 MB CDN & US Flex Rate Plan ($10 more than Canada only plan)

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