5 important things to know about Canadian cell phone plans

 The Canadian cell phone industry is confusing and difficult to understand. When comparing plans you have to deal with calling circle plans, specified evenings and weekend minutes, “anytime” minutes – it’s all so confusing. Well here are 5 items that you may not be aware of that you should know while you compare cell phone plans:

1. Long distance isn’t quite long distance

I always thought that if you were on a 100 min long distance plan that these minutes were in addition to my other minutes as I am paying extra for them. But what long distance plans do is to convert your regular minutes to long distance minutes. In other words, 100 of your 200 min plan is allocated for long distance usage as opposed to 200 regular mins plus 100 additional for long distance.

2. Unlimited is NOT unlimited

I always remember the customer who got an “unlimited” data plan and got a bill for $5,000 the following month. He was tethering his phone continuously for one month. Not an issue because he had an unlimited data plan or so he thought. Here are some things to consider about “unlimited” plans:

  • Unlimited data – find out the exceptions, for example no tethering or whether there is a fair usage clause meaning that the plan is unlimited based on some expected usage amount.


  • Unlimited incoming – typically unlimited incoming plans are limited to coverage areas. That is, once you are in your local coverage area, all incoming calls are unlimited and there are no additional fees, however outside of your local area there may be additional costs. Find out about your coverage area before you finalize your plan.
  • Unlimited calling – I’m yet to see an unlimited calling plan that is nationwide meaning you can travel to anywhere in Canada and make unlimited calls at no additional cost to you. There are usually exceptions, for example unlimited calling available for a specified period, 3 months or 6 months or limited to a coverage area like a city or province, so ask before going off on a calling spree.
  • Unlimited long distance – this plan converts your regular “anytime” minutes to long distance minutes. So if you have 400 anytime minutes then you ONLY Have 400 long distance minutes. So much for unlimited long distance calling.


3. Beware of Roaming

There are two types of roaming charges, voice and data roaming. If you will be traveling beware of the latter.  If you are like me you would think that if you never used your phone to call anyone then there should not be any roaming charges while traveling overseas. Well think again! You may still incur roaming charges once your phone is on as it checks your email servers, receive messages and emails even though you are not using it. The only way to avoid these charges would be to turn off your phone or turn off data roaming. You can save yourself hundreds of dollars by doing this in advance of your trip.

4. Beware of the dreaded first bill effect

Have you ever signed up for a $50 plan and when your first bill comes its $125? How? You’ve just been hit by the dreaded first bill effect.  There are a two reasons for this:

  • Advanced billing – typically when you sign up for a postpaid contract they bill you for your next month plus charge you for your previous month – so $50 plan from your previous month + $50 plan for your next month’s usage
  • Timing – you were placed on a later billing cycle so when you received your bill, there was a period in the previous cycle which you were billed for in this case $25. So your total bill is now $50 (advance billing) + $50 (previous month’s plan) + $25 (additional usage or overage from prior period) = $125.


How do you avoid this? Ask to be placed on a bill cycle closest to your activation date that way you won’t be hit with a double whammy!

5. Be wary of Brands

Have you ever told a Bell rep that they should give you a better deal because Virgin is offering a richer cell phone plan? Well you won’t be the first, but what you don’t know is that Bell won’t mind if you went with Virgin because you are still with Bell. Virgin is fully owned and operated by Bell, so is Solo. The same goes for Rogers and Fido and now their new wireless brand Chatr and for Telus and Koodo – branding combinations aimed to keep customers under one house or company.

The table below will help you navigate this web of brands:


Yale Holder is president of MyTerms Network . Together with Kye Husbands and Paul Peic, he created myCELLmyTERMS, a Toronto-based company that helps cell phone users negotiate wireless plans with independent dealers.

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