Archived—Cellphone Choices for Canadians: A Practical Guide to the Canadian Cellphone Marketplace

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Consider your Options

Service Contract or No Service Contract

Once you have defined your basic needs, you need to ask yourself whether or not you are willing to commit to a service contract.

If you think that you are willing to commit to a contract, there are a few things that you may want to know and consider.

  • The minimum service contract period for cellphone service is usually one year, but can be as long as three years.
  • Committing to a service contract means that you are obligated to pay for services from that provider for the amount of time specified on the contract. Breaking a service contract is usually costly.
  • Ask your provider about the total cost of your monthly bill. Along with a monthly fee for a plan with a set amount of minutes, text messages or data usage there are usually also additional fees such as for 911 service. Remember to also account for applicable taxes.
  • When you commit to a service contract, you may receive a phone free of charge, or at a reduced cost.
  • The service provider may include certain features as a bonus or at a reduced cost often for a limited period of time for committing to a service contract. Make sure that you know how long the service contract is for. Ask if you can break the service contract and if so what charges apply and whether you can change your plan during your contract period. If you are not comfortable with the contract terms, do not commit.

Service Contracts with a Monthly Plan

If you choose a monthly plan, you will pay a flat monthly fee for a given amount of minutes each month. The fee may also include the costs for a certain number of text messages and/or data usage. However, the total cost for your service each month may also include a monthly fee to connect you to the network, a 911 service fee as well as taxes. If you exceed the amount of monthly minutes set by the plan additional fees will be charged.

  • You should base your plan choice on the amount of minutes, number of texts or amount of data you think you will need each month.
  • If you use your phone for voice calls a lot during evenings and weekends, options may be available to provide unlimited call minutes during these time periods.
  • Some providers’ evening minutes start early (e.g. 5 p.m.). Others start later (e.g. 9 p.m.), with an option to begin your evening minutes earlier, at an additional cost.

Regular minutes can be used at any time, which includes weekends and evenings. If you don't expect to use the total amount of minutes in your plan, you may not need to buy a more costly weekend or evening option — your regular minutes will do just fine. Or you may also consider choosing a plan with a smaller amount of weekday minutes as well as an evening and weekend minutes option.

  • Let the provider know if there are more than one cellphone users in your house. They may have multiple user plans to suit your needs.

Tip

Once you have chosen a plan and after a few cellphone bills arrive, review the amount of minutes that you are actually using. Does this amount match the monthly plan that you have chosen? If you find that you are going over or not using the amount of minutes in your plan, ask your provider if there is another plan that would better suit your needs. When making any changes to your cellphone or cellphone plan, be sure to ask your provider if this will cause your service contract to start over from that date.

Prepaid Cards and Plans

If you choose not to commit to a long-term service contract, you can instead buy a cellphone outright and use a prepaid plan or phone cards.

Here are a few things you may wish to know about prepaid cards and plans:

  • You will need to supply your own phone. Not all phones are compatible. Providers use different technologies, so always check with the provider you are planning to deal with that the phone is compatible.
  • Credits from a prepaid plan or card may be applied to more than just voice calls. In most cases they can also be used to pay for text messaging, Internet access, and features such as voicemail.
  • Prepaid plans do not usually include the bundled discounts available for voice minutes, texting or data usage often available with a service contract. Monitor your usage and talk to your provider to ensure a prepaid plan is the most suitable option for you.
  • Prepaid credits usually have a set expiry date. When buying credits, know the expiry date which can be anywhere from 30 to 90 days or even longer. Failure to add money to your account before the expiry date means your unused credits will be forfeited. Ask your provider the best way for you to add money to your account, either by using your cellphone, in person at a retailer, or online.
  • There may be a one-time activation fee to start an account for your cellphone. (However, be aware that if your account remains inactive or with a balance of $0 for a certain period of time, you may need to pay a fee to re-activate your account. Ask your provider for details.)
  • The cost per minute is usually higher than in a service contract.
  • You may not receive a monthly bill, however, pay attention to make sure that you do not run out of minutes. You may be required to renew a minimum number of minutes on your phone each month.
  • To carry forward minutes, you must keep a balance in your account.
  • How long you can carry minutes forward for, as well as what will happen with unused minutes varies by provider.

Month-to-Month Plans

Many providers offer month-to-month cellphone service plans. With these plans you pay a monthly rate for a set amount of minutes each month, however, you are not required to commit to a long-term service contract. These plans generally require you to provide or purchase your own phone. Many providers may also offer the month-to-month option to customers once their initial cellphone contract runs out.