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Selecting the Finest Phone Providers in Canada: A Comprehensive Guide

Mobile Network Operators in Canada

Rogers, Bell and Telus are the 3 network operators that own and operate nationwide telecom networks in Canada. They are known as the Big 3 because approximately 89% of Canadian mobile phone users subscribe to one of these operators or one of their subsidiary brands. The remaining 11% are subscribed to smaller regional network operators and resellers that sell access to the national carriers’ networks by marketing to certain demographics (eg. seniors).

The Big 3 offer phone plans under their own brand name, as well as at least 2 subsidiary “flanker” brands each such as Fido, Virgin, Koodo, and Public Mobile. These sibling brands all connect to the same, nationwide network owned and operated by their parent company.

Other providers that own and operate their own networks include Freedom Mobile – which has coverage in urban areas across Canada – and regional providers SaskTel in Saskatchewan and Quebecor (Videotron) in Quebec and Ottawa. Plan prices are actually cheaper in these regions due to the added competition of a 4th provider.

Due to this market concentration, there is limited competition, causing Canadian phone plans to be some of the most expensive in the world.

Phone Provider Brands in Canada

  • Tier 1 – Full Service: Most expensive plans provide access to the fastest 5G networks, the latest features like “unlimited” data and decent customer service.
  • Tier 2 – Mid-level: Mid-range priced options that are best for financing a brand-new phone.
  • Tier 3 – Discount: Lower priced options that are best for prepaid (pay-as-you-go) bring-your-own phone plans. 100% digital self-serve accounts and chat or ticket-based customer services only. Data speeds may be throttled.
  • Regional: Great prices and feature options, but only available if you live in Saskatchewan or Quebec, the Maritimes or spend all of your time in cities.

Bell, Telus and Rogers’ 4G LTE networks’ coverage reaches 99% and 97% of the population of Canada, respectively. That same coverage is offered by their subsidiary brands (data speeds are limited in some cases, but reception is not), so you’ll have strong coverage with all of these companies unless you live or frequently travel to very rural or remote areas, in which case you should check with the provider about their coverage in that area.

Each tier is targeted at a different type of customer, but the options in each tier typically provide almost identical plans at almost identical prices with only small differences in features and reward structures. When one lowers its prices or adds additional features, the others are usually quick to follow suit.

For example, Koodo was the first to offer Canada-wide plans on July 21, 2011, and they were quickly mimicked by their closest competitors. Virgin initially offered long-distance as a $10 add-on on September 7, 2011, but reduced this fee to $5 about a week later on September 16, and removed it altogether on October 4.

The Competition Bureau has stated that Canada’s wireless industry is highly susceptible to price coordination and that it is likely that coordinated behaviour between the Big 3 exists.

Network Sharing and Wholesale Agreements

No single mobile network operator covers the entire country. They all have agreements with each other to share networks or to pay a wholesale rate for access.

For example, Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility have a reciprocal network sharing agreement forming what is referred to as a multi-operator core network (MOCN) to provide a common, Canada-wide radio network to the customer. Bell builds most of its towers in the East of Canada and lets Telus use them, while Telus builds most of its towers in the West of Canada, letting Bell use those. This is not the same as a roaming arrangement, where the radio networks would be separate.

Phone Providers in Canada

Parent Company Brands and Subsidiaries Coverage across Canada
BCE Inc. Bell Mobility, Lucky Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Bell MTS LTE: 97%, HSPA+: 98%
Rogers Communications Rogers Wireless, Chatr Mobile, Fido Mobile, Cityfone, Primus Wireless, SimplyConnect, Zoomer Wireless LTE: 96%, HSPA+: 98%, GSM: 97%
Telus Corporation Telus Mobility, Koodo Mobile, Public Mobile LTE: 97%, HSPA+: 98%
Eastlink Eastlink Wireless Atlantic Canada and Northeastern Ontario
Shaw Communications Freedom Mobile LTE: Toronto, Ottawa, London, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, HSPA+: 98%
Iristel Ice Wireless Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon
Keewaytinook Okimakanak K-Net Mobile Northern Ontario
SaskTel SaskTel Mobility LTE/ HSPA+ (Saskatchewan): 99%
Sogetel Sogetel Quebec
SSi Micro SSi Mobile/Qiniq Northwest Territories, Nunavut
Tbaytel Tbaytel Northwestern Ontario
TNW Networks TNW Wireless Northwestern British Columbia and Yukon
Québecor Vidéotron Mobile, Fizz Mobile Québec and Ottawa
Xplornet Xplore Mobile Rural areas in all provinces

Full Service: Telus vs Bell vs Rogers

The Big 3 parent companies of the flanker brands offer their own range of full-service postpaid and prepaid BYO phone plans that are marketed primarily to service-focused consumers who value convenience and having the premium option. Their plans and features are often nearly identical and are priced very similarly.

Pros:

  • Network overage is just as good
  • Fastest data speeds: They are the only providers who offer access to the 5G/5G+ networks
  • Lots of (“unlimited”) data: They are the only providers who offer “unlimited” data. After reaching your data limit, download and upload speeds are typically limited to 512 Kbps. Video streaming is available at a maximum of 480p and mobile hotspots are disabled.
  • Family plans: Get discounts for each additional family member you add to your account and each of those lines can share from the same pool of monthly data.
  • New device financing: With a plan, you can buy the latest smartphone for $0 down and 0% APR and pay it off over 24 months.
  • Phone customer service: Most personal customer support with phone, in-store, social media or chat options

Cons:

  • Most expensive: As of March 2023, all three companies are offering 50 GB at speeds up to 1 Gbps with “unlimited” shareable data and unlimited international texting for $95 per month on a BYO device.
  • Prepaid plans: aren’t great when compared

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