Prepaid Cell Phones

December 24th, 2008 by Potato

Now that the secret’s out, I can tell you all that I got Wayfare a new cell phone for xmess. She doesn’t use much time at all, and was formerly on a low-usage Telus plan that they don’t even offer any more. However, her handset broke apart, so it was time for a new one. I was hoping that Telus would give her a new one just to keep her as a client, but it wasn’t until I called in to switch her number that that offer was made. In the end, I think it was a good thing anyway. She told me she was on a $15/month plan, which sounds pretty good for a light user. After looking at her bill though, I saw that she was really paying $25/month after taxes, voicemail fees, and network charges were added on, which is pretty terrible for 50 minutes of airtime (50 cents/minute, much of which went unused through the month)! On top of that, the long distance rates were atrocious.

So a pay-as-you go phone seemed just the thing a light user like her needed. Most of the pay-as-you-go plans were pretty similar: roughly 20 cents/minute local, 30 cents/minute long distance. The thing that set them apart was the various additional fees and how long the airtime top-ups lasted. The winner was, believe it or not, Petro-Canada mobility (the oil company, yeah). They had no extra monthly fees (aside from the 911 fee) and $20/$50 top-ups lasted nearly 6 months (180 days), and a $100 top-up lasts for a whole year! The Nokia handsets they have are low-end but do have some neat features like FM radio tuners and voice recorders. However, we were quite surprised to find that the phone doesn’t have a volume control! (not normally a feature I feel I have to ask about) Here’s a breakdown of the competition:

Update: The phone does have volume control! You have to press left/right on the d-pad during a call, rather than the intuitive up/down.

Bell – 30 cents/min local; 40 cents/min long distance. Voicemail “express” included. $3.95 monthly system access fee. Top-ups last 30 or 60 days. A number of optional features for extra $$$, including automatic credit card top-ups. With the system access fees and the high rates, this is basically just a shitty monthly plan. Avoid it.

Solo – Bell’s more dedicated pre-paid plan, Solo has a higher daytime local rate of 40 cents/minute, but only 5 cents/minute evenings; long distance is an additional 30 cents/min. Voicemail “express” included, no other fees aside from 911. Top-ups last 45 [$20] or 75 days [$30], and are available from a number of retail outlets as well as via credit card.

Telus – 25 cents/min local; 55 cents/min long distance. Voicemail included, no other fees aside from 911. Top-ups last 30 [$10] or 60 [$25+] days. Expensive add-ons like text messaging (might be needed if you get lots — they charge 15 cents/message without a plan!) and unlimited evenings/weekends are an option.

Fido – It’s pretty complicated. If they can’t explain it on their website so that I can understand it, then that is a fail. They call it a prepaid plan, but you have to refill monthly, so it’s really just a monthly plan that you can top-up by buying cards at a convenience store instead of a bill in the mail.

Virgin – 30 cents/minute local; 60 cents/minute long distance. Voicemail included. Top-ups last 30 [$15], 60 [$25], or ostensibly 365 [$100] days [their website still says the $100 top-up lasts a year, but I heard that they cancelled that]. A large number of optional plans available, as well as some primo handsets.

President’s Choice – 20 cents/min local; 45 cents/min long distance [24 cents/min combined with a PC long distance card]. Voicemail included, no other fees (aside from 911). Top-ups last 30 [$15] or 60 [$25] days. Optional extras include browsing plans and evening/weekend plans, making it a hybrid of a pay-as-you-go and monthly plan. Credit card top-ups an option.

Speak Out – 7-11’s reselling of Rogers’ service features 20 cents/min local [25 cents/min with the lower top-ups]; 40 cents/min long distance. Voicemail included, no other fees. All top-ups last a full year. However, top-ups are only available from 7-11 stores.

Petro-Canada – 20 25 cents/min local; 30 45 cents/min long distance. Voicemail included, no other fees (aside from 911). Top-ups last 180 [$20 or $50] or 365 [$100] days. Top-ups only available from Petro-Canada gas stations. Edit: In March, just 3 months after getting the phone because of the decent rates, Petro-Canada has screwed it up by jacking the prices.

So for someone like Wayfare who only uses about an hour a month, but in fits and bursts where some months she won’t use it at all and then two or three in another month, a pay-as-you-go plan is perfect, and having the top-ups last a long time is also important — I shake my head at the ones with 30 day expiry: how are those really any different from a monthly plan? Being able to load up and not worry about it for the rest of the year is a nice feature.

Petro-Canada has been great so far: the people at the call centre were friendly when activating the phone and transferring over her old number. The one call she’s made on it came through clear. One thing though is that they need to load the phones with a normal ringtone option. I think there are only 4 song options. What happened to the classic brrring, brrring?

One Response to “Prepaid Cell Phones”

  1. Rez Says:

    Speaking of xmas, have a merry one!