The wildly varying costs of Canadian mobile data.


Today I attempt to answer this question:

Exactly how much does a gigabyte of mobile data cost in this country?

If you pay your monthly bills to either Mobilicity or WIND the answer is “not very much” — both of these upstart carriers offer unlimited data (throttled after a generous 5 or 6GB) with their most expensive plans, or separately as a cheap add-on at the low end.

But what about The Big Three? It’s sad but true that Mobilicity and WIND are limited to urban areas (and offer no service at all in Québec); if you want the latest and greatest LTE data service at the cabin or cottage, how much are going to have to pay for it?

The answer? It depends…

This county’s big wireless carriers are all about obfuscation, so I dug deep into each of their websites to try and find some answers.

The Numbers

On Bell…

On Rogers…

On Telus…

Props to Telus

Some props must be given to Telus for separating the data add-ons from their smartphone voice plans. For Bell and Rogers, the overage rate for smartphone data was the only concrete number I could find.

Answering Critics

Industry apologists will be quick to defend the disparity of numbers here: Spend more, get more — what’s the problem?

The problem is that Canadians have no clear idea of what their data service is actually worth. We know that DSL and cable-based Internet costs providers pennies per gigabyte; with much of their wireless infrastructure already in place, can mobile data cost the carriers that much more?

Some techies might also tell you that smartphones, tablets and hotspots all use different APNs, so the prices for data service on each should be different.

But it’s all broadcast from the same towers, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it cost the same?

What This All Means

Just like last week, the numbers don’t add up. More to the point, the best deals on data seem to be for data sticks, hotspots and tablets — not smartphones.

And not coincidentally, there’s an interesting discussion on the HowardForums right now about the feasibility of using a tablet plan on a phone. Substituting VoIP for voice is a no-brainer; the big hurdle seems to be finding a suitable replacement for SMS.

I myself am still of the opinion that a hotspot is the ideal solution, as it saves battery life on your phone and can be used with laptops, tablets, even other phones.

But the non-obvious lesson of the day is this: if you’ve got a smartphone plan with data you may be getting ripped off — more so than usual, anyway…