Canada’s mobile phone industry is dominated by the “Big 3”: Bell, Telus and Rogers. These 3 providers run an oligopoly over the market, thus ensuring that although Canada has incredibly modern and up-to-date networks (3G, 4G and, most recently, LTE), Canadian consumers continue to carry the burden of the most expensive cell phone service in the world.
The average individual mobile phone bill in Canada hovers around the $80/month mark, once taxes, network and usage fees and add-ons are tallied up. Most consumers are tied to a 3-year contract with a $20-per-month-remaining early termination fee. This “price gouging”, as some economists have recently accused the Big 3 of perpetrating, means that Canadians pay more for mobile phone service than any other country, including Britain, America and Australia.
Recently Wind Mobile, an Egyptian-based carrier with millions of customers around the world, began building its network in Canada after a long-drawn out battle in the Senate (the “Big 3” had opposed the entry to the Canadian market of another player, forcing a series of Senate hearings). Wind offers some price discounts in comparison to the others, but their network is still relatively small and located only in larger urban areas like Toronto and Vancouver.
In the meantime, the Big 3 will continue to dominate the Canadian market, and thus Canadian’s lives.
Bell is Canada’s oldest telecom company and one of the most powerful companies in Canada. Originally founded in 1879 by Alexander Graham Bell’s father and operated out of Chicago, Bell’s Canadian division broke off from the US in 1880 and within 15 years owned all the telephone lines in Canada. Bell was instrumental in bringing Canada into the modern age and settling the west.
Bell Mobility came about in 1993, and have grown their customer base to over 7 million subscribers. Bell, an innovative company that has the resources and clout to keep ahead of the pack, has the single most extensive network in Canada as well as the fastest and most modern. Every type of superphone, including LTE and iphones, work at blazing speeds on the Bell network. This has come with a high price tag, and critiscism about Bell’s near-monopoly over cell towers in eastern Canada is growing. Nevertheless, Bell Mobility will continue to be one of the main carriers and network providers in Canada for years to come.
Canada’s largest cell phone provider, with more than 9 million subscribers, has maintained it’s dominating market share by always being the first with the newest technologies. Rogers was the first network to upgrade to 3G, and then to 4G, and most recently to LTE. Rogers was the first network to carry the original iPhone in 2008.
Rogers began as a Radio provider in 1925 in Toronto, Ontario. In 1960 Rogers began broadcasting television and moved into the cable provider industry by the early 1970’s, being one of the first companies in North America to do so. By the 1990’s Rogers was offering internet, home phone and mobile phone services to millions of customers in central and southern Ontario. Rogers is considered Bell’s biggest rival, although prices and plans remain pretty much the same. Now that Android and iOS is offered on pretty much every network in Canada, it is difficult to see what differences exist between the two.
Canada’s third-largest provider is based out of metro Vancouver, British Columbia, and has long been the main telecom provider for western Canada. Telus was originally formed as a crown corporation by the government of Alberta in the 1950’s to operate all the telephone lines in the province. By 1980 Telus had become a privately owned, publicly-traded telecommunications company operating telephone, television and the first mobile phones, pagers and car phones in western Canada.
In 1992, 3 months ahead of Rogers in the east, Telus launched Canada’s first fully-integrated digital mobile network. By 1999 Telus had acquired several defunct local providers in Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia, which enabled them to become a truly national brand. In 2010, Telus signed a groundbreaking agreement with Bell to share each other’s networks, thus opening up vast markets to customer bases in both eastern and western Canada. While Telus and Bell use each other’s towers, they still remain competitors. Telus is known for having great customer service and competitive pricing plans, with a trusted and resourceful brand.
The newest entrant to the heavily controlled mobile market in Canada is Wind Mobile, going online in Toronto in 2009 after a years-long battle through the halls of Canada’s parliament. This Egyptian-owned company saw an opportunity to build a successful network in a market that was fed up with the old players, and ran into stiff protest from the Big 3 concerning the “fragility” of Canada’s economy and the entrance of a new player. After several years of debates, hearings, studies and lots of public uproar, the Senate agreed to allow Wind Mobile to open up shop in Canada.
Wind’s network is still relatively small, with coverage only in Toronto, Vancouver, Hamilton and Edmonton. Their customer base of about 500,000 is expected to grow in coming years as Wind aggressively builds new towers and expands its market.
In 2005 Richard Branson pulled a publicity stunt in downtown Toronto when he basejumped from a tall skyscraper to land in the center of the city. Thus launched Virgin Mobile, touted as a new entrant into the Canadian marketplace. The publicity stunt was well received, until it was discovered that Virgin Mobile, although using Branson’s famous brand, was actually a full subsidiary of Bell, which was offering a “discount” brand to increasingly peeved-off customers.
Started off in Canada has a subsidiary of T-Mobile in the US during the 1990’s, competing well with Rogers and Bell in Ontario. It competed so well, in fact, that Rogers bought the company out in 2004 and continues to operate it as a “discount” brand, although it’s prices and plans and contracts are no different than the Big 3.
With Virgin Mobile snatching up more customers for Bell and Fido rolling in the bucks for Rogers, it was only a matter of time before Telus brought out its “discount” brand: Koodo. One thing all the discount brands have in common is that their pricing is the same as their parent company’s, and they offer less phones. Koodo is no different.
7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless
We had to mention this one. 7-Eleven offers prepaid cell phones at nearly all its locations in Canada. Minutes are fairly cheap, but the phones aren’t anything interesting (don’t expect the latest iPhone or Galaxy in 7-Eleven). Something to note: 7-Eleven phones operate on the Rogers network.