The Phone Quest


No More Phone Booths!

One of the first things I had to do when com­ing home, along with doing loads of laun­dry, was to get a phone.

Well, tech­ni­cally, I have a phone. Two, even: a land­line (pri­mar­ily for tele­mar­keters to call) and a cell phone that I never use because I haven’t bought min­utes in ages.

I bought my cell­phone a few years ago, after valiantly resist­ing sales pitches for months. I’m not a phone per­son: I do every­thing by email. But as the world was get­ting hooked, meet­ing some­one with­out hav­ing a cell­phone became increas­ingly dif­fi­cult. “I will call you when I get there but I’m not sure when.” “But I don’t have a phone,” I would protest. “Can’t we set a time?” “Sure. Let’s say between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. But I will call you when I will know.” Etc.

So I gave in and bought a pay-as-you-go cell­phone. A crappy one that dropped calls and stub­bornly refused to con­nect me when it felt like it. I hated the plan I was on: I had 200 min­utes per month but I had no way to check when the 200 min­utes were up. “You have to write down the length of your calls,” said cus­tomer ser­vice when I called to com­plain. “Don’t you have a num­ber I can call that will give me my air­time bal­ance?” “Nope.”

I bet I never fully used my 200 min­utes. Bastards.

This year, I knew what I wanted: a Black­Berry. I fig­ured that a smart­phone would actu­ally be use­ful. Being able to check my emails on-the-go is great and plans were barely more expen­sive than for a dumbphone.

So I started shop­ping around. First, I went online. In Canada, we don’t have that many providers: the big three are Bell, Rogers and Telus. Then they are a few “alter­na­tive” providers such as Vir­gin Mobile, Koodo and Mobilicity.

I knew what I wanted: I didn’t care that much about the phone itself, but I was look­ing for a plan with unlim­ited calls to 5 or 10 num­bers (yes, I have no social life) and some data.

First, I strug­gled with the lingo. I thought my Eng­lish was pretty good but under­stand­ing the plans, more or less detailed on each provider’s web­site, was tricky. What the hell is teth­er­ing? A supertab? How much data do I need?

But what annoyed me the most was the inabil­ity to see the actual monthly plan rate at a glance. After killing me eyes on read­ing the fine print (some­times occu­py­ing half of the screen), I decided to meet the devil face-to-face.

Armed with a friend and a Star­bucks Latte (wel­come back, first world!), we paced Bank Street where most of the providers have a store.

First we went to Rogers, where I explained I was look­ing for a Black­Berry and a plan. “Black­Berry sucks,” the employee told me in uncer­tain terms. “You won’t like it. They break right away.” I felt some loy­alty to RIM. “But I had one at work and it was fine,” I protested. “Nope. They all break.”

We left Rogers.

Bell was next. This time, the employee didn’t have any­thing against RIM and he showed me the plans. “That’s pretty good,” I acknowl­edged. “So it’s that much per month, right?” The employee fid­geted. “Well, yes. I mean, plus voice­mail, plus call dis­play, plus acti­va­tion fee and plus tax.”

Wait a minute: isn’t that included?

Not in Canada my friend! Cell­phone plans here are a noto­ri­ous rip-off, but it’s not like we have much choice. I got used to pay­ing for incom­ing calls and to the fact my plan was going to cost me from $50 to $80 per month. Still, I wanted to know what I was actu­ally get­ting for that price.

I left the store with­out a phone.

The fol­low­ing day, Feng came with me. “Can’t be that dif­fi­cult!” he boasted. We stopped at one of these cell­phone bro­kers places. “I have a great plan for Black­Berry,” claimed the employee. “$40 a month and you can get that phone for free with a three-year con­tract.” “So what do I get for that price?” The employee looked at me with pity. “A phone. Do you need air­time?” “Well, yes. It’s a phone after all,” I pointed out. “Okay, make it $55 a month. Do you need data?” “That’s kind of the point of hav­ing a smart­phone,” I added. “Okay, make it $60 a month then. Plus tax, plus voice­mail, plus call dis­play, plus acti­va­tion fee, plus sys­tem fee. Got two pieces of ID?”

The two pieces of ID stayed in my wal­let. After vis­it­ing a few stores, we called it quit. “You know what,” said Feng, exhausted. “Buy what you think is best. There are no dis­counts, no good deals and they are all the same.”

So I went back to my first choice (Vir­gin Mobile, mar­gin­ally cheaper) and signed up for a plan.

I now have a Black­Berry. I just have to fig­ure out how to use it.




About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I feel your pain, there are no good deals in Canada and no mat­ter how well I did my research, I always found unex­pected charges on my phone. I hardly use my iPhone for talk­ing, but love the GPS and for check­ing emails on the go.

  2. I got my Cana­dian friends pretty dis­tressed when I told them about how much I pay for my phone calls :-) One of the good things about liv­ing in the hottest mar­kets for cell phones. 😀

  3. whats the model of black­berry that you set­tled for?
    whats your pack­age in the data … I mean whats the monthly limit that you will have to deal with?
    I am a black­berry fan and though nowa­days they are prac­ti­cally doomed I am stick­ing with their prod­ucts.
    it is a pity the cana­dian rip-off in this ser­vice … but then again it was your choice to get your­self under the snow … up there :)

      • I have torch too the 9180.
        got it for 49$ here in the states almost a year ago.
        isnt that bad :)
        I have a 200MB plan/month and isnt that bad, though I per­son­ally con­sider it a ripoff.
        maybe I can send you some apps (those dealt with under the counter) so you can enjoy the torch even better.

  4. I use vir­gin as well. I protest all plans in north amer­ica period! And I refuse to get a good phone, got mine in 2004. I pay $112 with tax and it lasts me for about 7 or 8 months worth of tex­ting. I don’t want to cave in until they make their plans like in Europe.. So you’ve got some­one just like you, includ­ing who I call!

  5. How come didn´t you check Mobilicity?

    When I spent three months in Toronto I suscribed to them. I had an all inclu­sive plan (Unlim­ited data, incom­ing calls, sms, north amer­ica long dis­tance, every­thing) for just $45 a month, no string attached, no hid­den fees, noth­ing, just that.

    I bought a $100 Smart­phone, noth­ing fancy but works pretty good.

    Only down­side is it didn´t seem to have good under­ground cov­er­age, not as good as other com­pa­nies, but over­all it was excellent.

    Just my two cents.

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