Mobile phone service is unquestionably complex, needing a lot of research about both the phone and your service provider. After an exhaustive search of all the providers in the Toronto area, we found that Wind Mobile had the best cell phone plans to suit our needs. Yet the devil is in the details. Choosing a phone and the specific plan is trickier than we initially thought. There were other issues to consider, including cell phone coverage, unlocking the phone, buying the phone outright, and how Wind does their tab. Specifics of the Wind plan can change at any time, so this post is valid today in August 2013 and will change in the future.
Wind Mobile coverage is spotty: This is true. Speaking to many Wind customers, they freely admit this. If you travel a lot to different outlying areas from Toronto, Wind may not have very good coverage. Check the Wind cellular coverage map to see if you are Ok. For us, who do not usually travel outside of the large metropolitan Toronto, coverage should be Ok, with cell towers very close by. We have a tower within 300m of our house.
Unlocking your Phone: Wind will unlock your phone for $10 after 6 months of service, no matter if you have a tab or not. Even if you purchase the phone from Wind for full price, the phone is locked so you cannot move to another provider. Why they do this I do not know.
How the Wind Tab works: This is explained very well on the Wind Mobile site, thankfully. Select a phone and a plan. You need to pay the down payment for the phone. The rest is on “tab”. Wind will reduce your tab by 10% of your plan payment for every month of service up to 20 months, after which they cancel the remaining portion of the tab. Therefore after 20 months you will own the phone. For example if you choose the Wind 20 plan the tab is $100. If your chosen phone price was $250, you sign up for the Wind 20 plan and pay $150 for the phone. For each month they will credit you $2 for the phone. For 24 months your tab is now reduced by 24 * $2, or $48, after which Wind will remove the rest of the tab, or $52. You own the phone. After 6 months, even with the tab, you can pay $10 to unlock your phone.
|Initial tab credit
|Each month tab credit
|After 24 months, total tab credit
|Wind removes remaining tab credit
|Wind removed tab credit / month
|Wind removed remaining tab credit / cost of plan
|Total plan charge for 24 months
If you choose to move to another service provider you may pay the tab and move your phone. You have no contract. This is much easier than all the other service providers.
Purchasing an Unlocked phone and using it with Wind: You really need to be careful here. I looked up AWS phones on Wikipedia but this list is not sufficient for Wind. Wind requires AWS 1700 and 2100 frequencies, so only phones from AT&T and T-Mobile can work. Even phones that are the same make and model might be on different frequencies, so check to ensure they use both 1700 and 2100. There are very few phone models that can be used with Wind, thus greatly limiting your phone options. The Motorola Razr V that we had our eye on used to be available from Wind in 2012. We found an unlocked one but the frequencies did not match Wind as it was missing 1700. A store employee tried his Wind chip in the phone and it did not work on Wind. The Motorola Razr V is a certified AWS phone, but not with the right frequencies for Wind.
Buying an unlocked new or refurbished phone here in Toronto is quite difficult. The large chain stores such as Future Shop, Best Buy, Walmart, etc, only sell phones from the cell phone providers, forcing you to also buy a plan and go on tab. One store that sells unlocked refurbished phones, Factory Direct, says most of their phones do not work with Wind. There is no free market to be able to buy a phone outright. Buying used phones on Kijiji or Craigslist is pretty sketchy. Factory Direct only has 9 phone models that can work with Wind, and one of them is over 3 years old.
It turns out that an unlocked phone is financially discouraged by Wind anyway. Though they say that you can do it. It does not make economic sense. An unlocked phone will get you a credit of $100 but this is not applicable to the monthly fee for your plan ($100 credit for the Wind 20 plan, $200 for the Wind 30 plan) but applicable to add on benefits. If you do not want any add-on benefits then you cannot use this credit. If you sign up for the Wind 20 plan, which has no data quota, then you need to pay $5 for every 100mb, which is a paltry quota to begin with. Using 200mb of data will add $10 to your bill and you might as well go for the $30 unlimited talk, text and data plan. Choosing the Wind 30 or 40 plans, which includes unlimited data, unless you use additional services, the $100 credit is of no use.
This web page, text and html is 31k large. The simple top banner is 35k large, for a total of 66k for one load of a single and very simple web page. The average web page, bloated as it is, is probably about 1.3mb, and I believe it. 100mb will get you about 77 pages each month, a paltry amount. This also excludes video and audio. As a web developer I have seen the bloating of web pages first hand. For designers and owners, there is no red flag when it comes to efficiency of a web site and their web pages. The solution is to have a cell plan with more data rather than less.
We set up a spreadsheet comparing all associated costs of the phone over a two year period, tab vs outright purchase. If you stay with Wind Mobile for over 24 months, it is cheaper to buy a phone on tab than buying a phone outright. This is because Wind will eliminate the remaining tab cost after 2 years. If you ever use the internet the Wind 30 plan will be better because using the Wind 20 plan each 100mb of data will cost you an extra $5/month. If you use data of over 200mb/month you might as well go to the Wind 30 plan, which has unlimited data. 200mb is such a small amount of data today that it would be impossible to not go over within a month.
The Wind Website, Internet Research: Understanding cell plans in Ontario is surprisingly complex and I believe this is purposely done this way by competitors trying to confuse the public. Wind makes it a little easier by providing simple and relatively clear information on web pages. The unlocking of the phone is not covered on their site, so I had to call them. On both calls the CSRs were courteous and informative, giving me definitive answers. I do appreciate clarity and simplicity.
Research on Wind and phones can me a huge source of frustration. All phones are offered in the US and internationally but the same make and model of phone might have different specs here in Canada and specifically from Wind. It is truly buyer beware. Be careful.
Whichever phone and cell service provider you get, be very careful about the terms and conditions. Here in Canada most providers have you lock into a plan for 2-3 years, so you could easily get scammed with a phone or service you hate. Ask around about coverage and be very careful. Does this sound paranoid?
Addendum: Wind Mobile charges for “Short Codes”. This is not written on their pricing sheet. A short code is like a shortened telephone number, but does a specific action, It is used like a text message but is not considered a text message and therefore incurs extra charges. You can use these short codes by inputting into your phone. If you download an app and it uses short codes you will be charged each time you use the app. Wind Mobile pockets the cash. If you know what a short code is already you can look up this info on the FAQ page of Wind Mobile. For those of us who did not know about short codes, this will be a bit of a surprise. This happened with my Big Weed using the “Transit Now for TTC” Android app.