How to minimize what you pay for mobile Internet

Updated: Telus has changed their pricing, making it one of the most attractive options

Mobile internet is expensive in Canada. In fact, mobile telephone services are very expensive in Canada.

I do enjoy having a smart phone with Internet access, but I dislike paying for the phone part. What I want is to pay only for data.

Searching for the best deal I came to the conclusion that a tablet plan for my phone was the best deal. Why? I don’t receive phone calls in my phone. The big 3 (telus, rogers, bell) + fido all allow you to use a tablet plan on a phone. If you use the phone, you’ll be charged $1/min. If you use texting its price varies.

With a data connection:

  • I can make phone calls using skype

  • I can text for free with text+ (both send and receive)

  • I could even receive phone calls with text+

  • I can tether my laptop.

The advantage of the data plans is that they are by-month. You don’t need a contract, hence you can cancel with one-month notice. Most of them are “flex” so what you pay varies depending on the data you use. And that is where the big question lies: which one is the best plan?


Telcos sell two types of services: flex, which vary the price depending on the amount used, and fixed, which are per period of time and give you a fix amount of bandwith.


Their rates are (updated to June 15, 2013):

telco Min >10MBy >100MBy >150MBy >250MBy >500MBy >1G >3G >5G Notes
Fido 10     25     35   $10/G  
Rogers 5 10 20     40     $10/G  
Telus 5 10 20       35 50 $0.02/Mbyte Best deal
Bell 5 20         40   $0.015/Mbyte Has TV option

How to read this table. The column states the limit on which the price kicks in. For example, Telus charges a minimum of $5, which you pay until you hit 10Mbytes; at which you pay 10. This price stays until you hit 100 Mbytes, then it jumps to $20, at 1G you pay $35, at 3G you pay 50 and over 5Gigs you pay 0.02/Mbyte.

Prepaid services:

telco 100MBy 250MBy 500MBy 5G Note
Rogers Prepaid   15   35 monthly
Telus Prepaid 10   20 35 30 days pass
Bell Prepaid   15 20 35 30 days pass

How to read this table: For example, Rogers sells 250 Mbytes for $15, or 5Gbytes for 35 dollars.

Which service to choose

The main problem of Flex plans is that the jumps are huge. When I was using them I feared to jump to the next level, and ended using less than 80% of them. Otherwise is you are only slightly over the limit your cost is huge.

How to read this table: For example, Bell charges you $5 for less than 10 MBytes, $15 for less than 250 MBytes $35 for less than 5Gibs and 0.015 per MByte after. This table does not include data plans that do not allow tethering (such as 7/11).

The plot below shows the cost of each of the telcos given a consumtion (in Gigabytes —x axis).

Price charged per Gigabyte

What is the best rate?

As you can see, the best rate depends on the data you use:

  • If you do not use data for some months (the entire month) the 5 dollars minimum of Bell and Telus are a good way to minimize paying for nothing: $5

  • If you use below 100Megs, Fido and Telus are the best deal: $10

  • If you use below 150Megs, Fido is the best deal: $10

  • If you use between 100Megs and 250Megs you are probably better off with Bell: $15

  • If you use between 250Megs and 3G Telus is the best deal: $20

  • If you use between 3G and 5G, Bell and Fido are the best: 35

  • If you use above 5G, Bell is the best: 35+0.015/MByte charged rounded up to the closest Megabyte.

As you can see, the perfect plan is not easy to find. As soon as I found Telus had updated their prices, I cancelled my Fido account, because my current uage is usually between 0.5 and 1 Gig, and Telus offers the best deal at that range, plus if I don’t use it at all, I only pay 5 dollars.

One thing worth mentioning. If you are willing to run out of data, the Bell Prepaid is a good option. The reason is that if you use another plan and by mistake, run slightly over the bracket, you jump immediately to the next cost; for example, if you use 1 byte too many you might have to pay 35 instead of 20 dollars. If you buy Bell Prepaid you know exactly how much you will pay each month. The disadvantage is that if you use way less, you still pay that amount. I find myself looking over my data by the end of the month. In this respect Telus software is better at reporing your usage than Fido one.

How much do you pay per gigabyte?

The following is a rather disappointing plot. It shows how much you pay per gigabyte downloaded. The lower you use, the more expensive it is. Notice how the curve at the bottom varies by usage.


What do you do?

My suggestion: monitor your usage, understand you needs, and make an informed decision. My wish is that we pay per byte used, at the tone of one cent per Megabyte plus a base rate of $5 dollars.

Also, note that I haven’t mentioned reliability, reachability, nor quality of service. This might be a factor that makes a given plan impractical. That is a subjective metric that you will have to figure out by yourself.

Data Usage Reporting

I have used Telus and Fido. Telus provides better reporting of usage (and more up-to-date). Fido does not report until few hours later. This makes it harder to monitor usage with Fido than with Telus.

My choice

As of now, I don’t use any service, but if I had to, I’d use Telus. The question is: flex rate or fixed?