Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Canadian mobile for Americans: A primer. (Koodo, Google Voice/Hangout)

It is hard for Americans to understand how awful Canada’s mobile and Internet options are. Imagine that your only option for cell and net access was the equivalent of Comcast. That gets  you half way there. Now double the cost.

Canada’s lousy net/mobile situation probably explains part of why, when I travel to Quebec, the web experience feels more like 1998 than 2014 (language requirements don’t help).

Why is it so bad and why don’t Canadians scream more? Geography always factors into Canadian economics - a country that’s 5,000 miles wide, 100 miles high, thinly populated, and sitting atop a monster, is always gonna have weird markets. There’s also culture — Canadians don’t whine enough. (We Americans lead the world in whining, wailing, and complaining. Gotta be good at something.) And maybe a bit of a Blackberry hangover. [2]

It’s so bad now even Canadians are getting fed up. There are rumblings about turning net/mobile access into a regulated utility — some of my relatives think Rogers and Shaw are getting nervous. We’ll see. Canadians can tolerate a lot of abuse.

This is on my mind now because I’m trying to figure out the best options for my sister.

I currently have her on an American AT&T iPhone 4 [1] and a $17/mo Virgin Mobile prepaid plan (Virgin is a Rogers MVNO). On her plan voice costs 0.40/min (!) and she gets 100MB a month of data (iMessage, Facebook, email). This plan costs about 4 times my kids H2O wireless plan and delivers less value [3]. It’s not great and she needs voice services [4]. 

Koodo, a Telus MVNO, seems to be the value choice (the dread CDMA acronym appears). The IMEI for my sister’s AT&T 4 passed the Koodo compatibility test, so it’s possible her current/future AT&T 4/4s would work with their SIM.

Looking at the options, and starting with these assumptions…

  1. 500+ min of talk
  2. No home internet service (so tethering [7], which is supported, is the only way to use, say, an old 32bit Mac Mini running Snow Leopard [5])
I end up with, tentatively [9], two Koodo options [6]. One caveat — Koodo, weirdly, does not support Canada’s Interac system for making payment [9].
  1. Postpaid: $60-$70 month (1-2GB) + fees
  2. Prepaid:  $90 (at time of purchase a 13% HST is typically paid)
    1. $35: text and unlimited incoming calls
    2. $30: data (1 GB)
    3. $25: 500 anytime minutes

Which brings me to Google Hangout/Voice. Having GV on her phone would provide some nice cost-saving options. Alas, even though Google has .ca domain documentation on Google Voice, neither GV nor Hangout are available in Canada (nor Skype!). One workaround uses a US Skype number to full Google, but of course that would give her a US number — not terribly useful actually [8]. Sigh.

So I think it’s going to be Koodo — either postpaid or prepaid depending on hidden fees with postpaid.

 - fn -

[1] The 4 (soon to be 4s) has been compatible with Rogers/Virgin frequency. I recently tried my unlocked AT&T 5s with a Virgin SIM however and the data service failed completely — I don’t know if this was due to Virgin’s fragile infrastructure or a frequency problem with the 5s chips.

[2] More culture. Canadians love BlackBerry, the little company that could. It’s dead now, but Canadians are a loyal bunch. So their expectations of mobile are kind of 2005.

[3] One twist — in Canada some cell plans don’t use minutes for incoming calls. Some do. Koodo does on some plans at some times. Complex, but if you know the rules you can text and ask someone to call and thus talk for free. Koodo’s old crappy website has an “unlimited incoming call” add-on for about $10/mo - but it’s unclickable on a modern browser. By the way, the website offers the same add-on for unlimited minute plans — where it adds no value. I wonder how many are paying an extra $10/mo to Koodo.

[4] If we cancel her home phone she needs 500+ minutes of talk a week.

[5] The best desktop device/OS combination Apple ever made — before the mediocrity hit. You can’t buy something as good today though there are obvious security issues with such an old OS.

[6] In US postpaid plans there are many hidden fees and taxes. I don’t know if that’s true in Canada, but in some provinces taxes add 25% to costs. I know the Virgin prepaid plan has no additional taxes, I assume that’s true of Koodo too. Makes prepaid/postpaid comparison harder.

[7] Desktop OS are not made for tethering — they randomly suck volumes of data. Modern “cloud” devices are big offenders, so a pre-iCloud Mac has an advantage. Still, it’s a worry esp. for a postpaid account. I don’t know how Koodo handles overages on a prepaid account; in the US H2O seems to just cut coverage but Ptel (Tmobile) will burn the number with a huge overage cost.

[8] The site also recommended “", but if you try to visit that site Google warns that the cert expired 270 days ago. Don’t go there unless you want your computer to serve Russia.

[9] Koodo’s website is broken — the add-ons can’t be selected using Chrome or Safari. There may be more options if the add ons features worked. I think the broken web site/funding situation may also explain their lack of Interac support.

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