There are nearly a dozen carriers on tips of Canadians' tongues — Rogers, Bell, Telus and their flankers, Fido, Virgin Mobile, Koodo; regionals like SaskTel, MTS, Videotron, Eastlink; and national upstarts like Wind — but in many cases, there are very few ways to differentiate them.
The Canadian mobile market can be defined using two simple words: fast, and expensive. We have some of the consistently fastest networks outside of Asia, with providers adopting standards like LTE-Advanced and Voice Over LTE before those in the U.S. and Europe. But we also pay a premium for that privilege, resulting in some of the highest average revenue per user (ARPU) per carrier in the the world.
As much as Canadians complain about their telecom providers, a growing number are spending an increasing amount of their devices. Basically, we're all addicts, and the telcos are our dealers. So if you're going to go with one, which one should it be, iPhone users? We've got the scoop.
Important note: All plans and prices listed below are subject to change, this is just meant to give you a basic overview of what each carrier has to offer.
Canada's Big Blue, Bell is one of the oldest mobile providers in the country. After transitioning from CDMA technology to a more modern HSPA+ network in 2009, Bell launched its LTE network in late 2011.
Bell partners with Telus on the network side, which includes tower and equipment sharing in various parts of the country. Bell, however, has consistently outperformed both Rogers and Telus in recent speed tests, owing to its prodigious use of carrier aggregation.
For the iPhone, Bell uses a hybrid plan structure. Like all other carriers, Bell offers share plans, which allow users the choice of unlimited local or national calling and Canada-wide texting, and a data bucket that can be shared with up to nine additional people.
Sample plan for family with four iPhones (exc. Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan)
- Unlimited nationwide calling and texting for account holder: $60
- 6GB of shareable data: $45
- Three more iPhones with unlimited nationwide calling: $60x3 = $180
- Total: $285 per month (plus tax)
Who should go for Bell?
Bell is a national carrier with coverage in every province and territory. It is also one of the only Canadian carriers with active towers in Canada's North.
Bell offers LTE-Advanced speeds, which are compatible with the latest-generation iPhones, in big cities in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. Bell is also the only carrier in Canada to offer tri-carrier aggregation, which allows for speeds of up to 225Mbps with compatible devices.
Bell, which owns a number of media properties in Canada, such as CTV, offers 24-months of Mobile TV access when signing a two-year contract. It also owns CraveTV, a streaming service that exclusively licenses HBO and Showtime content.
While Bell isn't particularly well-known for its customer service, it has been trying to improve its reputation in recent years.
What to know: Bell also owns Virgin Mobile, which is aimed at a slightly younger demographic than its main brand. While Virgin Mobile uses the same network as Bell, it does not offer share plans, and occasionally has more competitive prices.
Rogers is the largest carrier in Canada, and possesses the largest individually-built network (since Bell and Telus share significant portions of infrastructure). With over nine million customers, Rogers has struggled in recent years to maintain growth in the wireless space.
Rogers has the oldest relationship in Canada with Apple on the iPhone, since it was the only de facto GSM carrier when the iPhone 3G expanded beyond the U.S. in 2008. But since rivals Telus and Bell began selling the iPhone alongside the iPhone 3GS, Rogers has no distinct advantages for iPhone users beyond a strong network.
Under the guidance of CEO Guy Laurence, Rogers has revamped its customer service process, promising shorter wait times and more comprehensive, one-on-one support.
Rogers uses its media properties and partnerships to great effect, offering share plan customers the option of two years of either streaming music service Spotify, streaming video service Shomi, or all-you-can-read magazine service Texture. Rogers also offers competitive roaming rates with its Roam Like Home service.
Like Bell, Rogers uses a hybrid plan structure. It offers share plans, which allow users the choice of unlimited local or national calling and Canada-wide texting, and a data bucket that can be shared with up to nine additional people. It also offers non-share plans that aren't as generous on a per-gigabyte basis.
Sample plan for family with four iPhones (exc. Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan)
- Unlimited nationwide calling, texting and 6GB data for account holder: $95
- Three more iPhones with unlimited nationwide calling: $70x3 = $210
- Total: $305 per month (plus tax)
iPhone prices include up to $600 in subsidy, which lowers by equal amounts over 24 months, which is required by the Wireless Code of Conduct. For example, an iPhone 6s costs $398.99 with a two-year agreement or $899 outright. That difference, $500, is reduced by equal amounts (516 / 24 = 20.83) of $20.83 over two years. Customers canceling need to pay back the outstanding device balance.
Rogers also offers a $10 per month discount for customers purchasing their own iPhones and bringing them to the carrier, or under the Smart Tab brand, for spending more on their devices upfront.
Who should go for Rogers?
Rogers is a national carrier with coverage in every province and territory. It has historically fared strongest in Ontario and British Columbia but offers at least 3G HSPA+ in provinces where it has partnerships with regional carriers such as SaskTel and Eastlink.
Wireless customers looking for strong, but not necessarily the fastest, LTE speeds in most of the country, plus a wide range of content add-ons, should look at Rogers. Rogers is currently the only carrier to offer Voice over LTE service on the iPhone, though that statistic may not last long.
What to know: Rogers also owns Fido, which is aimed at a younger millennial demographic than its parent company. It also forgoes shared data plans in favor of three tiers of plans that vary in price depending on the amount of subsidy included.
Telus has traditionally been strongest in Canada's western provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, but with its network partnership with Bell, has pivoted to being a viable national carrier. Telus has the second-highest number of subscribers in the country after Rogers, though it changes places with Bell every once in a while.
Telus tries to simplify its device and monthly plan prices by rounding up to the nearest hundred dollar — no $*.99. It has also taken a customer-friendly approach, in lieu of content partnerships, since the telco owns no media properties. For iPhone users, Telus is alone in offering in-house AppleCare+ at the same level as Apple itself, which means that anyone in the program can come to Telus for Genius Bar-like repairs and support.
Like Bell, Telus uses a hybrid plan structure. It offers share plans, which allow users the choice of unlimited local or national calling and Canada-wide texting, and a data bucket that can be shared with up to four additional people. In addition to unlimited nationwide and local calls, it offers a cheaper 300-minute calling tier. Telus is also more generous than Bell or Rogers in discounting customers who bring their own iPhones, offering a $15 per month discount compared to $10 on the other two.
Sample plan for family with four iPhones (exc. Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan)
- Unlimited nationwide calling, texting, and 10GB of data and 2GB of shareable data for account holder: $135
- Three additional iPhones with unlimited nationwide calling: $55x3 = $165
- Total: $300 per month (plus tax)
iPhone prices can include up to $600 in subsidy, which lowers by equal amounts over 24 months, which is required by the Wireless Code of Conduct. For example, an iPhone 6s costs $300 with a two-year agreement or $915 outright. That difference, $615, is reduced by equal amounts (615 / 24 = 25.63) of $25.63 over two years. Customers canceling need to pay back the outstanding device balance.
Who should go for Telus?
Telus doesn't offer the latest and greatest in technology — it has yet to launch tri-carrier aggregation (though it piggybacks off Bell's network in certain parts of the country) or Voice over LTE — but it does have some of the strongest customer service credentials around. It is also a preferred AppleCare+ partner, which is great for people buying extended warranties in cities where there aren't Apple Stores close by.
What to know: Telus also owns Koodo, which tries to be both a value brand and, like Fido and Virgin, a more youthful one. Koodo doesn't offer share plans, but it does have a simple financing system that separates the cost of the phone from the plan. As a result, monthly plans cost less because the cost of the phone is tacked, in 24 equal payments, to the price of the plan. Once the phone is paid off, the monthly plan drops accordingly. We wish more carriers would do this.
See the iPhone at Telus (opens in new tab)
When Wind was bought out by Shaw, it became Freedom Mobile which services big cities Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver — and smaller ones in Ontario like London, Hamilton, Kingston and Windsor (and pockets in between) with an LTE network.
Freedom Mobile doesn't officially sell the iPhone, but users who have an unlocked iPhone that is the iPhone 6 model or higher (and some later iPhone 5s models) can connect to the Freedom Mobile network.
Freedom Mobile offers plans that start as low as $25 per month for a basic talk and text plan, all the way to $100 per month for 20GB of data, unlimited calling and texting. Freedom doesn't have a lot of plans, but has a decent selection of options and add-ons to choose from so you can tailor a plan to your liking.
For example, The $60 per month Big Data + Talk Plan includes unlimited talk to Canada and the U.S., and unlimited text, and 10GB of data.
Who should go for Freedom Mobile?
Even though the company doesn't sell the iPhone, plenty of users have made the jump to Freedom Mobile because they offer fairly competitive prices. Some customers love it, and since Shaw bought the company, the network speeds have increased and the service area has expanded.
If you live in an area where Freedom Mobile has service and you don't do a ton of travelling aroudn the country, give Freedom Mobile a look.
Videotron, BellMTS, SaskTel, Eastlink
These four regional carriers all sell the iPhone, and introduce significant competition in their respective provinces of Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Maritimes.
All of them operate LTE networks, either on their own (in the case of Eastlink and SaskTel), or in partnership with Rogers (Videotron and BellMTS). As a result, they all have roaming agreements with one or all of the incumbents for Extended Coverage, where they don't offer their own service.
Unlike Wind, which the incumbents Rogers, Bell and Telus don't consider a true competitor, the presence of the above regional carriers has a direct impact on the cost of monthly service in these provinces. Monthly plans in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are often 30 to 40% lower than in the rest of Canada; in Quebec, they are between 10 and 15% lower; and in the Maritimes, around five to 10% lower.
Who should go for Videotron?
Videotron has quickly become a force in Quebec, garnering nearly a million customers since its wireless service launched in 2009. Like Rogers, Bell and Telus, parent company Quebecor offers home television, internet and home phone service, so many of its customers are bundlers, but Videotron has been smart about undercutting the incumbents while systematically increasingly ARPU with compelling services. Recently, it launched Unlimited Music, which zero-rates popular music streaming services like Spotify and Deezer. And like Bell, Videotron offers streaming television through its Illico brand, which it bundles with some of its more expensive wireless plans.
Videotron also offers the iPhone series at different prices depending on a customer's monthly price spend. The higher the plan, the greater the subsidy.
See the iPhone at Videotron
Who should go for BellMTS or SaskTel?
Wireless customers that live in either Manitoba or Saskatchewan would do well to check out BellMTS or SaskTel, both of which offers fantastic LTE speeds and coverage in their respective provinces. Those who travel outside the province regularly, though, are at the whim of so-called Extended Service, and may not benefit as much from the carriers' lower prices. Since Rogers, Bell and Telus tend to match the regional carriers' prices in both provinces, choosing a carrier is more a matter of comfort than price.
Both BellMTS and SaskTel sell the iPhone at standard two-year contract prices.
See the iPhone at BellMTS See the iPhone at SaskTel
Who should go for Eastlink?
Customers in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia, along with parts of Eastern Quebec, could benefit from Eastlink's excellent LTE coverage and financing plans. Eastlink is the only carrier in Canada that offers true financing, which means that it sells every phone for free upfront, but amortizes the cost of the device over two years in 24 equal payments. American wireless customers know that this is not novel — nearly all of them have switched over in the past year — but in Canada, financing is still a novelty.
So, which is the best carrier for iPhone?
- If you're after national coverage with the best customer service, Telus is the best carrier.
- If you're after national coverage with the fastest speeds and the newest LTE technology, Bell is the best carrier.
- If you're after national coverage with fast speeds, and lots of content bundling options, Rogers is the best carrier.
- If you're after national coverage at the lowest prices, Koodo is the best carrier.
- If you're after the lowest prices, period, Wind Mobile is the best carrier.
- And if you're satisfied with the regional coverage, try Videotron, BellMTS, SaskTel or Eastlink, which are often cheaper than the incumbents.
tl;dr: There are no bad carriers for the iPhone, but Canadians should do some research before deciding which one is right for them.
Updated September 2018: Added newest prices on family plans ahead of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max release.
Daniel Bader is a Senior Editor at iMore, offering his Canadian analysis on Apple and its awesome products. In addition to writing and producing, Daniel regularly appears on Canadian networks CBC and CTV as a technology analyst.
So you might want to update your details on Freedom, considering they’ve sold iPhone since the X last year and I preordered the XS this year through them.
And they also have it noted that Rogers includes a subscription to Shomi, which went under almost 2 years ago.
Of note... Bell is the only Canadian carrier where one can actually use the eSim capability of the new iPhones for a second line.
You STILL haven’t updated the portion about freedom! What the **** Luke?! Come on this is just lazy journalism at this point.
FYI, Telus plans DO in fact go down after you pay off your subsidy. You just have to contact them and the plan drops accordingly. I have done this all of the times I went past the payoff date. I get a new device every 2 years because of the deals my wife gets at her place of employment. They have an awesome contract with telus for group plans and pricing.
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