I was originally going to write this post a year ago. I think I need to finally get it off my chest and move on.
This time last year Mobilicity was still reeling from the first of two failed friendly takeovers by TELUS, this one blocked by then Industry Minister Christian Paradis. Now, a year and another failed takeover bid later, John Bitove and other Mobilicity backers are suing Industry Canada for $1.2 billion. How much longer the company can provide service to their customers is anyone’s guess, and not at all what I want to write about today. Instead, amidst the doom and gloom, I want to share some fond memories of Mobilicity, back when it was a contender.
I’ll always have a soft spot for Mobilicity; they were instrumental in the personal growth of this smartphone enthusiast for two things: (1) Freeing me from the clutches of Canada’s Big Three carriers, and (2) Getting this Nokia fanboy to finally switch to Android, a more modern mobile OS.
Mobilicity is inevitably compared with that other upstart Canadian carrier, WIND Mobile. I don’t think it’s too contentious to say that WIND looks right now to have the brighter future of the two. But for most of 2011 I was of the opinion that Mobilicity was the better choice.
(A quick disclaimer: most of the links below lead to Open attitude, a blog I ran during my time as a Mobilicity customer…)
It was the Nexus One (and a snub from Nokia’s WOM World) that got me into my local Mobilicity store to try out their service way back in October, 2010. Whomever was in charge of Mobilicity’s product lineup was a genius in my mind; over the course of the next year the company released what I thought was a string of surprisingly good, surprisingly cheap handsets, including:
- The Motorola XT300, aka “Spice”;
- The Mobiflip, a re-purposed Sharp Sidekick;
- The Nokia E73, purchased in a moment of weakness but a fine qwerty device nonetheless.
If more premium hardware was what you were after, Mobilicity also offered the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus when they came to market in 2011 and 2012.
Along with trumping WIND Mobile in the handset game, Mobilicity’s cheap plans kept WIND in check. I need some citations to back me up, but as I remember it every time WIND came out with a new promo Mobilicity would undercut them by a few bucks. This race to the bottom ultimately hurt both carriers, but it was a great time to be shopping for a mobile plan.
I can also remember a $20 unlimited long distance to South Asia bundle that had to be pulled because customers were racking up thousands of minutes on it every month.
Oh, and speaking of calls, Mobilicity had generally better call quality than WIND, at least in 2011.
In the days before Roam Mobility, or for anyone travelling outside Mobilicity’s limited service area, their online wallet was a godsend. By topping it up with whatever amount you saw fit you would never get a nasty surprise on your bill after roaming somewhere. I can distinctly remember being at SXSW and topping up my wallet while waiting for a slice of pizza using the mobile browser on my Moto Spice. Twenty bucks later I had data for the rest of the week. Easy.
It seemed to me that Mobilicity was at the height of its disruptive power when the company partnered with Howard and hosted two meet-ups—in Toronto and Vancouver—in early 2011. I attended the Toronto event and won a BlackBerry for my girlfriend. More importantly, I got to witness the persuasive power of then-CEO Dave Dobbin in the flesh. He really was like a Canadian version of John Leger (without the crazy) and I can’t help but feel like the heart and soul of Mobilicity was cut out with his exit later that year. There was the rather odd campaign with a van and a blogger following behind him on his motorcycle as he rode across Canada—which seemed to me like a surprising misstep for a company that, up to that point, had done everything else right. Maybe Dobbin saw the writing on the wall?
The End (For Me)
Dave Dobbin tendered his resignation in November, 2011. In a strange coincidence Mobilicity suffered a huge network outage only a few weeks later. The timing was especially unfortunate, right in the middle of the holiday shopping season when WIND was offering yet another holiday promotion. Of course I couldn’t resist giving WIND another try, and when I did I found that the service had improved a lot—I could now get full reception in the second-level basement of Toronto’s Eaton Centre, for example. And so I moved my girlfriend and I over to WIND, and encouraged my friends on Mobilicity to do the same.
But I’ll always be grateful to Mobilicity for getting me off the Big Three (if only for a spell) and turning me on to Android. Hopefully everything will work out for its remaining customers.