The iPhone: Saviour of the Mobile Internet in Canada?

iPhone 3G on Fido

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.


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25 responses to “The iPhone: Saviour of the Mobile Internet in Canada?”

  1. Yeah, well — while your perspective is appreciated, think about the fact that Rogers/Fido will require a THREE YEAR contract for the iPhone, compared to 2 in the US; I live in Europe for part of each year, and in many companies its illegal to lock the phone to a single provider.

    I can hardly wait until we find out on July 11 what Rogers/Fido considers an appropriate amount to pay for Data.

    The real question for me is what will happen when I purchase an unlocked iPhone in Europe, and then insert my Fido SIM once I’m back in Vancouver… I currently maintain my original $45 plan for 350 minutes per month, plus CDA/US long distance, plus free evening/weekends.

    What’s it going to cost me now to get Data added? Well, first I’ll have to dump my plan for something that I don’t want that will cost more money for less features, and then pay through the nose for Data — while Rogers/Fido tells me that they’re actually doing me a favour by offering a reduction in their currently extortionist rates. Let’s see exactly how the new rates compare internationally and then we can say how lucky we all are to be locked in to a model that is guaranteed to cost mega-bucks more over a longer period of commitment.

    While I’m on the subject, how will the iPhone work when traveling? Will a Rogers/Fido subscriber be subjected to humungous roaming costs for the ‘convenience’ of accessing an iPhone ISP in Japan? I ALWAYS have a SIM from the country I’m working in; cheap to buy and pay as you go.

    …end of rant. Thanks.

  2. Don’t be surprised if you’re let down. Rogers is known for screwing their customers. I’m waiting for the iPhone in Canada, but I’m not holding my breath about the data plans. I’m sure Rogers will force us to bend over if we want to use the iPhone.

    I’m guessing/predicting $60 for 200 MB per month, if that.

    The Rogers people made the comment few month ago that they’re not fans of unlimited plans of any kind.

  3. You have much more faith in Rogers than I do. I’m a business user that is currently paying $25/month for 1 MB of Blackberry Email. 1 MB! I have my order in for an iPhone on July 11th, but I’m not expecting much of a break on data from Rogers. They have a monopoly and they are using it to their full advantage. Until they have competition I don’t see data prices coming down much in Canada. Unfortunately, that could take a few years until Telus/Bell or one of the new entrants builds a decent GSM network.

  4. Hiya Casey… There’s some encouraging news from Engadget that Telus will be going with LTE for their 4G service:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that LTE is the logical progression of GSM, while some CDMA carriers like Sprint are betting on WiMAX.

    I sincerely hope we can settle on a single worldwide standard someday

  5. AC:

    I too, hope that the iPhone is the straw that breaks the rate camel’s back for Canadians.

    Hopefully the high school set adopt the iPhone and force changes on the industry as they have before.

    The kids took the pager out of the hands of repairmen and made it the first mobile device. Same with home computers — the kids in my year at university didn’t have home computers, but by the time I graduated, all the frosh were arriving with one in tow. Mobile phones really exploded when those kids, and their younger siblings, saw the potential in mobile communications and replaced their pagers as the phones themselves slimmed down. Same with text messaging, phones with cameras, MP3 players, the cassette, 8-track tape….

    If the iPhone becomes the next status symbol amongst our high school and post-secondary folks, every manufacturer will rush clones into production as mobile internet becomes the next standard-issue item on a cell phone. And if the telecoms are faced with tens of thousands of potential new clients who are on a limited budget, maybe the rates will finally come down to those seen around the world.

  6. I seem to recall The Star running a story a couple of days ago with the headline: “75% of Canadians are using the internet”. Perhaps it should have read: “25% of Canadians aren’t on the ‘net — WTF is wrong with you people?!”

    Oh, and for the record, I never bought into that 8-track BS…


  7. As an old hiptop user, I for one am looking forward to the Iphone. I currently use the Tytn, but its cheap construction and odd behavior of wm6 make it a pain sometimes.

  8. Andrew, thanks for the great post.

    I’m interested in getting an iPhone. Can you or readers comment on which to go with – Fido or Rogers? I know it’s the same company, but I wonder if there are differences. I live in Ottawa.



  9. Hiya Bruce, and thanks for writing in…

    I would expect Fido and Rogers to offer identical plans for the iPhone, so as not to cannibalize sales on either side of their GSM monopoly.

    As for which network to choose, you can save 10% on your Rogers Wireless bill if you have other Rogers services (like internet or home phone) whereas Fido has a rewards program that gives you FidoDollars as a percentage of your monthly bill. This is how I would pay for my iPhone — I’ll let you know how that works out!

    Oh, and if really “Digg” this post do me a favour and hit the button above the comments field for me… Thanks!

  10. @ Casey Woods & AC:

    OR you could simply get yourself a Blackberry, put yourself on the $15 unlimited email plan offered by Rogers and use Opera Mini with this plan (far superior to the standard browser anyway), amongst other apps with this data package, as Rogers can’t differentiate between data use of the messaging or Opera app. I have unlimited browsing and email (haven’t gotten around to trying other apps yet, but others have) for $15/month.

  11. Hey Elias, so do you have a BlackBerry now?

    I thought you needed a special BlackBerry data plan with a BB, as all your data traffic goes through RIM’s dedicated servers:

    As I understand it both email and web data is also compressed, so the 1MB per month that Casey is getting isn’t quite as bad as it sounds — though it’s nothing like the $39.99/unlimited data you’d get with, say, T-Mobile in the States…

  12. @ AC

    Yep, I’m on a Blackberry 8320 now…its a brilliant phone. Yes, you do need a Blackberry specific plan, which is exactly what the $15 unlimited email plan is, its BB only (although there are other versions coming for Windows Mobile types). The data all goes through RIMs servers, but as long as you can get an app to actually use data successfully through this process, RIM (and therefore Rogers) can’t distinguish what type of app is being used. Its a beautiful thing. I just got my bill, and its got ridiculous long distance charges (stupid Rogers) but not extra charges for data.

  13. It’s PocketMac right now, because that solution is free. Lords knows I would rather be using something like Missing Sync’s solution but, as a student, I just can’t shell out the money for it at this point. Do share though if you are aware of a better, free, solution.

    The gossip over there is pretty interesting. Not surprisingly there are a lot of people complaining about $30 for 300mb of data, while not perfect, 300mb is quite a lot of data for a smartphone, it would certainly allow for all the emailing you want and a good amount of browsing.

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