It's easy to get overwhelmed with all of the different phone plans and providers as a Canadian. There are tons to choose from! Different provinces have different plans and providers, but British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and the Atlantic Provinces share the same Bring Your Own Device plans. Rate plan providers are unique, each with their own perks, but often offer similar plans because of their competition with each other. Like gas stations and fast food restaurants, they're constantly in battle—when one provider changes a plan or pricing, others quickly follow.
Yet not all rate plan providers compete against each other, in fact, they're broken up into different tiers, aimed towards different audiences. For example, Rogers, Telus and Bell are the premium tier providers and appeal to larger families or businesses, so you might have noticed that their plans are a lot more expensive than Fido, Koodo, or Virgin Mobile. The latter three are cheaper, provide less benefits and are aimed towards individuals or students. When Rogers changes their prices, Koodo doesn't necessarily follow, and vice-versa. They only compete with other providers in their own tier. A good analogy is like shopping for clothes at Wal-Mart as opposed to Lulu Lemon or Aritzia, a shirt is a lot cheaper at Wal-Mart but of lesser quality, because it's targeted at a different customer.
When people think of service providers, the first three that jump to mind are likely Rogers, Telus and Bell. These three companies rule the Canadian wireless industry and set caps on things like pricing and data bonuses. They offer the largest variety of plans with the best coverage, customer service, and flexible options like sharing data. But they're also the most expensive out of any rate plan provider for these reasons.
Next, there's Fido, Koodo and Virgin Mobile, who are actually owned by Rogers, Telus and Bell, respectively. These companies are smart and want to cater to the whole spectrum of demographics, so they can gain more customers and maximize profits. It's a lot like how Banana Republic, GAP and Old Navy are owned by the same company. Banana Republic is the most expensive and trendy, GAP in the middle, and Old Navy the cheapest. Likewise, Fido, Koodo and Virgin Mobile are much cheaper, but have less customer service and no options, like shared data plans.
There are also some smaller providers like Freedom Mobile, Chatr and Lucky Mobile, which are even cheaper than Fido, Koodo and Virgin Mobile, but with a catch: they have limited coverage. This means that you'll only get service when you're within their "zones," which often comprise of larger cities, or in Freedom's case, only a few specific major cities. Chatr and Lucky Mobile also only offer 3G data, which is a lesser version of data that is ideal for reading emails or checking text-based websites and social media, but too slow for streaming music or videos.
Let's take a look at the pricing between these providers. We'll examine their ~4 GB plans with unlimited Canada-wide calling and texting, a sizable plan and a good medium to compare.
A plan with unlimited Canada-wide calling, Canada-wide texting and 4 GB of data costs a whopping $90 with Rogers, Telus or Bell. Meanwhile, the same plan with Fido, Koodo, or Virgin Mobile is only $55, and comes with unlimited international texting. That's almost half the price of the former! The trade-off is less customer service, deprioritized coverage, and the lack of some data-sharing flexibilities. Seems worth it, if you aren't in dire need of anything that specific.
Next, there's Freedom Mobile, which provides plans with the largest amount of data for the cheapest cost, but with some serious drawbacks. First and foremost, the coverage; Freedom's coverage is restricted to a few major cities: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, the Greater Toronto Area, and Ottawa. When you leave the boundaries of the city, your plan instantly becomes a mere shell of its full capabilities; for example, the Big Gig + Talk 8 GB plan will only have 500 MB of data as opposed to the regular 8 GB.
Chatr and Lucky Mobile are two competing brands on the lower end of the spectrum that offer cheaper plans with slower 3G data as opposed to the regular 4G LTE that every other provider has. 3G data is great for text-based apps, reading articles, sending iMessages or checking email; it'll get you by, just so long as you aren't an avid music or video streamer. Their plans are also restricted to zones, albeit on a broader scale than Freedom Mobile (includes smaller cities along the coast). Their plan with 4.5 GB of 3G data, unlimited Canada-wide calling and unlimited international texting is only $40 as opposed to Fido, Koodo and Virgin Mobile's $55. But the trade-off is limited coverage and only 3G speeds. Is it worth saving $15?
There are also some other less conventional options, like Public Mobile and Eastlink, depending on your province. Bonus data and pricing is always changing, so who knows? Maybe this comparison will swing in a different direction in a week or two. Always be sure to do your research!