Archive for Cell Phones

How To Save On Roaming Charges In The US

Posted in Tips with tags on August 4, 2017 by itnerd

Frequent readers who follow my travels know that I mention two things over and over again:

  1. Canadian carriers charge way too much for using your cell phone overseas.
  2. To avoid roaming charges overseas, have an unlocked phone and use a local SIM card.

That works pretty much everywhere except the United States where it is difficult to get a local SIM card. But because of a recent business trip, I can now share with you a way to get around that. Assuming that you have an unlocked cell phone, here’s what you do:

  1. Head to a gas station, WalMart, Target, or anywhere else that sells pre-paid credit cards. Then put at least $30 USD on it.
  2. Next head for the nearest T-Mobile store and sign up for their tourist plan which serves up 1,000 talk minutes and 2GB of LTE data for $30 USD. The only catch is that it is only good for three weeks. But that’s not a problem for most people who travel to the US. You’ll need the pre-paid credit card from step 1 to pay for this plan as you can’t pay for cell service in the US with a non-US credit card.
  3. Declare victory and have a beer.

I did this and it worked fine for me. Thus I have no doubt that it will work for you. Plus it is way cheaper than anything that Rogers, Bell, or Telus offers with minimal hassle, assuming you’ll be away for a week or more. Now you’ll lose your Canadian number, but that isn’t the biggest deal in the world if you save a few bucks. Let me know if you try this route the next time you travel to the US by leaving a comment.


Fido Cusotmer Gets $22,000 Bill….. How You Can Avoid Being Him [UPDATED]

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , on March 4, 2013 by itnerd

A story that’s making the rounds today is one from CBC where a BC man went on vacation with his family and came home to find a $22,000 bill waiting for him. Apparently, even though he had set the phone to “airplane mode” to allow his son to play games (and not use any cellular data), his son turned off “airplane mode” and then started to stream YouTube videos over the phone. As in 12 hours worth of YouTube videos. That’s where the “fun” begins. When he got in contact with Fido which is owned by Rogers, this is what happened:

Fido immediately said it would cut the bill to $2,200. However, Buie has been negotiating since to get a better deal. He believes the company is using the “shock factor” of the huge initial charge, to get him to settle for a bill that’s still too high.

“It is gouging,” said Buie. “It is $20 in Mexico [for domestic customers] to get the same amount of data [700 MB] from their carrier and it is $40 to get the same amount of data while in Canada.”

But it doesn’t end there:

Rogers’ packages for roaming in Mexico are also more expensive than its competitors — as much as five times more.

“It’s simply a way for these companies to make significant amounts of money,” said Buie, who said he didn’t buy a package because he didn’t plan to use any data on vacation.

He said what upsets him most is Fido didn’t send a message to his phone until three days of charges had piled up. If he were a Telus customer, its system would have cut off data access when the bill reached $200.

“I would rather be cut off,” said Buie. “If Fido was just reasonable about it, I would pay the amount and that would be the end of it.”

Now, should have the parent in this case better controlled the access to his phone? Yes. No question.

However Rogers/Fido doesn’t pass the smell test here because of the following reasons:

  • From polling friends who are on Telus and Bell who have roamed without a data package, what CBC claims in their story seems to be true as their phones got cut off quickly and the financial damage was manageable. Rogers/Fido doesn’t seem to work that way and one has to wonder why.
  • Even if you wanted to protect yourself by buying a roaming plan with Rogers, you are still going to pay more than you would with Telus or Bell. Thus it appears that with them you either pay on the front end or the back end if you do not buy one of these packages. But pay you will.

But what really doesn’t pass the smell test for me is the fact that data costs almost nothing for any cell phone provider and the rates that cell phone providers charge each other for roaming is at best 1/10 the cost that you as a consumer pay based on conversations with people who are in the position to know about this sort of thing. Thus Canadian consumers are paying too much for roaming regardless of whom the cell phone provider is. Having some competition in the Canadian cell phone marketplace would likely solve that problem. But that’s a rant discussion for another day. Let me get back on track.

How do you avoid being this guy? Simple. In order of preference, here are my tips:

  1. Don’t use your phone while on vacation. Besides just avoiding this issue altogether, you might feel better being unplugged from the world.
  2. If you must grab e-mail on your phone, use WiFi only. That will save you a pile of money.
  3. If you must use cellular data and voice, get a local SIM card. This of course would only work if your phone is unlocked. If it’s not, you’re out of luck on this front.
  4. If all else fails, buy a roaming package from your provider and monitor your usage. Avoid using your phone for things like Google Maps and the like if you can so that you don’t blow through your roaming package. You’ll pay more than you should, but at least you won’t have a $22,000 bill waiting for you when you get home.

Got any tips of your own? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

UPDATE: Rogers reached out to me (almost instantly I might add) and had this to say:

I just wanted to clarify something in your post about the Fido roaming story. The customer was never billed $22,000. When this type of situation happens, we have internal processes in place to identify these customers and their usage prior to their bill being sent out and then we proactively work with them towards a resolution.
Also, when a customer has purchased a Roaming Data Pass, customers are able to stay informed of how much data they use since they receive text message usage alerts when they reach 50%, 80% and 100% of data usage. In order to ensure customers never spend more than they expect, their usage will be suspended once their MBs are fully used. Once suspended, customers will be presented with the option to purchase another Roaming Data Pass, start using data at the regular pay-per-use rates or stop using altogether (their choice).

Thanks for the clarification.


Hey IT Nerd! What Do You Think Of The CRTC Hearings Into Canadian Cellphone Carriers?

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on February 11, 2013 by itnerd

For those who are reading this blog from someplace other than Canada, the CRTC is having hearings this week in an attempt to come up with a code of conduct for cell phone carriers in Canada. They feel that this is needed because of the fact that Canadian consumers feel that wireless carriers are taking advantage of Canadians by having long contracts and phones that are locked to a single carrier among other things. The CBC has a good write up on this topic.

So what do I think of these hearings? Not much really. Don’t get me wrong. Creating rules, boundaries, and limitations around how cell phone carriers behave is a start. But I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again. What’s needed is competition and competition of the Orange, T-Mobile, or Vodafone sort. If one of those carriers comes into this market and sets up shop, Rogers, Bell and Telus will change how they do business so fast that you’d get whiplash. None of what the CRTC is holding hearings over would happen if there was real competition. Thus the way to solve the problem is to let some competition in.

Canadians Screwed On Mobile Roaming Fees…. Shock, Not…

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on June 8, 2011 by itnerd

Here’s something that will not come as a shock to Canadian cell phone users. We’re being screwed by cell phone companies when it comes to roaming fees:

Canadians travelling abroad paid an average of $24.06 to use one megabyte of data in a single day if they were Bell and Rogers subscribers during the study period last fall. That’s 2.6 times the OECD average of $9.27, according to the report released Wednesday.

One megabyte is equivalent to the amount of data needed to send 10 photos, the report said.

The OECD compared advertised mobile data roaming offers from the two largest operators in each of the 34 OECD countries between Sept. 7 to Oct. 7, 2010. According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, Rogers was the wireless company with the biggest market share in 2010, with 9.0 million subscribers, followed by Bell and its affiliates with 7.2 million.

Roaming charges were second-highest in the U.S. ($21.58) and Mexico ($19.42) and lowest in Greece ($4.08).

It sucks to be Canadian quite clearly. But there’s more:

The report suggested two possible reasons why prices are so much lower in Greece than in Canada:

  • Lower wholesale prices, with savings being passed on to consumers.
  • Greater competition in the retail roaming market.

Gee. Canadian cell phone carriers passing on savings to consumers? Until there’s real competition that scares the crap out of Rogers, Bell and Telus, that’s not going to happen.

Here’s something that I didn’t expect though. Telus actually had something to say about this:

Brent Johnston, vice-president of mobility marketing for Telus Corp., said his company agrees wholeheartedly with the OECD study’s conclusion that more attention needs to be paid to international roaming fees and making things simpler for clients.

“This is a consumer pain point. It’s clear,” he said.

He said the timing of the study was unfortunate because he expects Telus’s roaming rates to fall by “well over 50 per cent” within weeks.

That’s because of new competition from new wireless entrants in Canada and recent international agreements signed by Telus and Bell with other carriers around the world since they launched their new HSPA network in 2009. Prior to that, Johnston said, Rogers had a monopoly on international roaming within the Canadian market.

I’ll believe that their roaming rates are going to drop when I see it. Right now you have to take anything that any of the big three wireless carriers say with a grain of salt.

Hopefully the Canadian government who have proven to be willing to shake things up to encourage competition is watching this and is willing to do something about this. Otherwise, you’ll go bankrupt if you use your cell phone or smartphone overseas.