Speed vs. reliability vs. value: Which iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c carrier should you get?

2013 iPhone buyers guide: How to choose between Rogers, Bell, TELUS, their discount Fido, Virgin Mobile, and Koodo subsidiaries, and alternatives like WIND and Mobilicity for your iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c!

Once you've decided you're getting a new iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c, and picked your model, capacity, and color, you still need to choose your carrier. If you're in Canada, that means the big-three carriers of Rogers, Bell, and TELUS, their lower-price subsidiaries, and a few upstarts. All of the big three have confirmed that they'll be offering the latest and greatest iPhones, though none of them nailed down pricing, Apple announced $199 on a two-year plan for the iPhone 5s, and $99 on contract for the iPhone 5c, and it's safe to assume the Canadian carriers will stay in line with that. So which carrier should you go with? We've chewed through the plans and coverage, and here's what we've found!

The big three: Rogers, Bell, and TELUS

Across the board, the 16 GB iPhone 5c costs $129 on a two-year term, and the 32 GB model is $229 on contract. The iPhone 5s is $229 for the 16 GB model, $329 for 32 GB, and $439 for 64 GB.

The big three Canadian carriers all work on what’s effectively a pro-rated early termination fee now. It used to be that if you cut your contract early, it was more or less a flat fee based on how many months you had left on your contract, capping out at around $400. Now the subsidy you take on your phone is factored in with how long you have left on your contract. Rogers calls this system FLEXtab, TELUS calls it Device Balance, and Bell calls it Data Service Agreement Price Adjustment. Basically, if you get $500 off the price of your $700 iPhone 5s, it would be about $250 to get out of your contract a year early. That $500 discount gets paid off in equal increments every month in your term (so, $500/24 = $20.83). After 12 months, you will have paid back $250 of that balance, leaving the other half to be paid off before you leave. Halfway through your contract, halfway to paying back your subsidy.

Bell and TELUS share the same towers for their GSM/LTE network but have different back-hauls (different connections to the internet from the towers). That means the Bell/TELUS tower near your home, school, or work could still provide better speeds on one or the other networks.

The budget three: Fido, Virgin Mobile, and Koodo

Each of the big three carriers owns a subsidiary that typically offers lower-cost options by way of a tab system. Rogers owns Fido. Bell owns Virgin Mobile. TELUS owns Koodo. All three have announced they'll be carrying the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s. They're great options if you want a balance of subsidized cost up-front and contract flexibility.

The alternatives: WIND and Moblicity

If you're really want an alternative, you also have the option to buy the 5s unlocked starting at $719 or 5c starting at $599, and run with WIND or Mobilicity - they have great plans starting at $20. It ends up being cheaper in the long run, just keep in mind that you'll be missing out on LTE. (Unless and until they get Apple to certify the iPhone for LTE on their networks.)

Who should get their iPhone on Rogers?

Rogers is the big boy on the block. Since the spring, Rogers has spread to Manitoba, offering LTE coverage to Winnipeg and other nearby areas. Of course all of the major centers are covered with LTE, including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Regina, Edmonton, and lots of others.

This is going to get repetitive, but if you're in those areas and speed matters more to you then money, go with Rogers.

Rogers iPhone 5s and 5c plans

  • $70 - Unlimited talk and text, 250 MB data ($15/300 MB overage)
  • $85 - Unlimited talk and text, 2 GB data ($10/1 GB overage)
  • $120 - Unlimited talk and text, 6 GB data

Who should get their iPhone on Bell?

For coverage, you’ll see that there are a few areas where Bell reaches that others don’t, namely up north. Bell regularly boasts to having Canada's largest LTE network, but take that claim with a grain of salt. When it comes to speed, Bell has the same kind of 150 Mbps LTE as Rogers in the Greater Toronto Area, Cambridge, and Kitchener-Waterloo.

Bell is a little cheaper than Rogers at the 6GB tier, so if they serve your area and you want to save a few bucks at that tier, go with Bell.

Bell iPhone 5s and 5c plans

  • $70 - Unlimited talk and text, 250 MB data
  • $85 - Unlimited talk and text, 2 GB data
  • $105 - Unlimited talk and text, 6 GB of data

Who should get their iPhone on TELUS?

I've always been a big fan of TELUS, mainly because among The Big Three, I find it's easiest getting plan information from them. Also, the cute branding and nice-looking stores help too. You can see from the coverage map that the Ontario corridor is well covered, as well as the Maritimes. Alberta's also looking pretty good, and it looks like there's even some decent service in the Northwest Territories. I've generally been happy with the speeds I get on TELUS, though I haven't spent too much time on their LTE. TELUS has new SharePlus Plans which makes it easy to hook up additional devices to the same account, similar to what Verizon's doing. If you wanted to get your iPad on the plan too, it would cost an extra $10/month.

TELUS offers 7GB of data, the most at that tier, so if they serve your area and you want the most for your buck, go with TELUS.

TELUS iPhone 5s and 5c plans

  • $70 - Unlimited talk and text, 250 MB
  • $85 - Unlimited talk and text, 2 GB data
  • $120 - Unlimited talk and text, 7 GB data

Who should go with a discount carrier?

Here's where it gets more complicated. If you have an unlocked iPhone and are simply looking for a SIM card to place in it, you have a ton of options from FIDO, Virgin Mobile, and more. If saving money is absolutely the most important thing to you, figure out the barest minimum voice, data, and extras like messaging you need, and then check out someone like Virgin Mobile. You'll get a great deal.

Still undecided?

If you're still not sure about which Canadian carrier to get for your iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, or iPhone 4s, jump into our iPhone discussion forums and the best community in mobile will happily help you out. Then let me know - which one did you go with and why?