So I have this friend who’s in the market for a new mobile phone. Like me, she’s on the Fido GSM network here in Toronto and also like me she’s come to appreciate the value of a QWERTY keypad, like the one I currently enjoy on my Nokia E61i. Unlike me she’s on a limited budget and uses a Windows computer, but as luck would have it I’ve an old HTC TyTN sitting in my drawer — so all we’d have to do to get her up and running on the mobile internet is to fix her up with a data plan on Fido. And that’s where it all goes to hell.
It’s such a long, convoluted story that I hardly know where to begin, but the sad fact is that, on the GSM side of things anyway, the cost of mobile data here is nothing short of an international embarrassment.
A mere two years ago I was surfing and emailing to my heart’s content with a Fido hiptop — our version of the T-Mobile Sidekick. Everyone I showed my hiptop to was instantly jealous of it, and a funny thing about having unlimited access to the internet wherever I went… It became incredibly useful.
And then the unthinkable happened. Rogers, another big Canadian company here and the country’s only other GSM carrier was inexplicably given the green light by our government to gobble up Fido and create an instant GSM monopoly in this country. And the first casualty was the new and improved hiptop3, rumoured to be in final network compatibility testing by Fido staff before Rogers instantly put the kibosh on it.
In its place Fido customers now have the following options available for mobile data:
- $60 per month for 25 MB, with $6 per additional MB.
- $100 per month for 200 MB, with $5 per additional MB.
And in case you were wondering, both of these “plans” are quite a bit more expensive than my much faster cable internet connection at home, also from Rogers.
To be fair, there are some breaks — you can surf all you want on a locked handset’s crappy microbrowser for a mere $7 per month, just don’t try to install something actually useful like Opera Mini or you’ll be charged the full rate of 5¢ per kilobyte, Yup, you heard me… Kilobyte. Apparently the way they police this is by capturing the handset’s serial number or IMEI during transmission, so presumably it has more to do with Fido and Rogers pushing multi-year contracts on their customers through subsidized phones than anything going above beyond a barely adequate customer experience.
There are also slightly more reasonable email-only plans for locked Windows Mobile handsets, but nothing like the unlimited, uncapped data I enjoyed on my hiptop.
That is until now.
For me, the iPhone’s killer feature is making the mobile internet palatable for the public at large. I can’t for the life of me see it being released here without unlimited bandwidth on-board, as (1) it’s primarily an internet device, and (2) Apple wants every iPhone owner to sign up for its MobileMeh service.
In a previous post I wrote that I would purchase an iPhone with unlimited data on principle alone. The one caveat would be Rogers requiring a 3-year commitment (the current industry standard in Canada) to enjoy unfettered internet access. I’m going to have to ruminate on that one for a bit — you may have heard that I’m not exactly a fan of carrier contracts…
Rogers and Fido aside, learning to live with iPhone’s shortcomings — the virtual keyboard, and lack of video and office support — will be a relatively small price to pay for having the whole internet in my pocket.
Perhaps too, in time, other wireless customers here will demand that their handsets have uncapped data access as well, but baby steps… Canada needs the iPhone to bring us out of the mobile data dark ages before any kind of renaissance can begin.