These are some of the more common questions received by email. If you have a question that you'd like answered then why not post it on GeckoBeachForums.com?
What is a SP-lock?
SP or Service Provider Lock is something that most providers do with their handsets. The SP-lock prevents you from using your handset with a different service provider than the one you purchased it from.
What you have to realize is that all of the cellular providers subsidize their handsets. If you were to go out and purchase a handset at full price, you would likely be paying at least $500. How many people would do that? Not many. But how about if the handset was $100? Many more people would likely buy it, but the service provider would have to eat the difference between the price they purchased it for and what they sold it to you for.
Lets take the example of my old Sony Telus Mobility phone that I purchased in the fall of '97. Telus Mobility purchased the phone from Sony for around $600 and in turn the retailer sold it to me for $150. After the retailer takes off his commission and Telus Mobility pays for both the shipping and administrative costs plus my 'free' $25 gift, they might make $100 on that handset. Therefore they need to collect at least $500 from me (or the handset owner) in service fees over the lifetime of the handset to pay for the handset. Say I pay $25/month for their cheapest plan and they make a 50% profit on that. That $500 would take just over 3 years to be paid off. Three years is likely the lifetime of that handset, but they really haven't made any money off me during that time. Well, not everyone is on the cheapest plan and many people do make long distance calls, add additional features, or use more than their monthly allocation of minutes. And don't forget that monthly or annual service fee of $6.95/month or $72/year -- the providers would like you to think it is a government tax, but in reality it just is an additional fee.
Some providers offer contracts, such as Telus Mobility. As a second example say that I purchase a phone from Telus Mobility for $400. The actual price to Telus is $600. A signed contract guarantees that Telus will receive from me $240 in profit over the 2 year contract (using say a $20/month plan and 50% profit calculation as above). Guess what? They have paid off the handset in 2 years.
What's the difference then? Because the first phone was cheaper and did not require a contract, the service provider requires some sort of guarantee that the handset will be paid off. The SP-lock DOES NOT guarantee that the handset will be paid off, but it DOES guarantee that the handset cannot be used with any other provider. If you went for the Telus phone and after your 2 year contract was up you disconnected the phone, then Telus doesn't loose anything.
So if my handset is not SP-locked, then I can use it with any provider?
Not really. An additional complication of different technologies and frequencies minimizes this. Here's what you can and cannot do:
The bottom line: High priced phone, no contract OR moderately priced phone, limited contract OR cheap phone not usable with another provider -- your choice.
- Telus, Bell and Rogers analog phones are 800 MHz AMPS and ARE interchangeable
- Most Mobility digital phones operate at either 800 or 1900 MHz CDMA. You may be able to use your phone with other Mobility providers in Canada, provided they are using the same frequency.
- Rogers digital phones operate either at 800 or 1900 MHz tdMA. No one else in Canada uses this technology and it will be phased out in the next few years.
- Newer Rogers digital phones use 1900 GSM. If you have an unlocked handset you could swap over to Fido, Cityfone, or SimPro with a new SIM card (note that Rogers owns Fido)
- Fido, Cityfone, and SimPro phones operate at 1900 MHz GSM and some handsets are SP-locked. GSM phones are controlled by their SIM cards and the SIM card will not work in another company's SP-locked phone without the SP unlocking code. There is, however, a North American GSM policy that does state that a GSM provider will, on request, release the SP-locking codes after 6 months of service. This does not necessarily mean that they will release the codes to you, but they will release the codes to another GSM provider that will be providing your new service.
I purchased a phone on eBay. Why can't I use it?
Between the period of June and mid-July 2000 I have received at least 30 emails from people that have purchased cell phones on eBay or other auction-type internet services. Most of these emails concern the use of the phone on a different provider than what the phone was originally purchased for. In all cases the purchaser of the eBay handset has not been able to successfully activate the phone and has either been stuck with a test handset or has tried to pawn off the handset on eBay again.
Due to the SP-locks on these handsets they are virtually useless they are re-activated on the same service provider. Do not bid on a handset unless you can confirm the original service provider or that the phone is unlocked. Most of the emails have been concerning the purchases of CDMA handsets that were originally activated on the Sprint PCS or Verizon network in the US and people are attempting to re-activate them on Bell Mobility or Telus Mobility. Some of the emails have told the story that tdMA handsets on AT&T are also locked and Rogers cannot re-activate them. This will also apply to GSM handsets originally intended for GSM carriers in the US that users are trying to activate on Fido or other Canadian GSM providers.
Also note that reported stolen handsets may not be re-activated by the original service provider. This policy varies between service providers and is a risk that you take when purchasing any previously enjoyed cell phone.
Why don't you provide rates or opinions on other Canadian or US providers?
Reasons behind why rates and opinions are not provided for provincial Mobility companies (e.g., SaskTel, Nortel, Thunderbay Telephone, Alaint, and so on) is because fewer visitors visit this site from those regions.
I receive many requests from US visitors to place rate sheets and opinions of major providers as well (e.g., Verizon, Sprint, VoiceStream, Nextel, etc), but due to the complexity of their services between regions in the US this becomes very difficult and this is likely why there are no sites in the US that offer similar information to what is found here (this is a very common question I receive from readers).
Having said all that, I do plan to convert the rate sheets over to a format that will allow users to pick their province and a province-specific page would be generated. I would welcome visitors in provinces not covered to submit their own opinions of their local provider.
For the US visitors to this site, I would welcome any opinions or anyone that would like to maintain a separate page or pages on this site to talk about US providers.
I travel to the USA several times during the year. What are my options for inexpensive roaming?
Roaming is an expensive, but easy way to use your cellular phone while outside Canada. Without roaming your phone may still work, but after dialing a number you are often asked for a credit card to charge the call to. Calls without roaming agreements between your provider and the roaming provider are typically $4/min US and up. If your provider has an agreement with the provider in the area you are travelling then your costs will be significantly cheaper, but never as cheap as your home rates. If you travel to the US frequently then you have the following choices:
- Use whatever roaming agreements that are in place between your provider and the provider within the area you are travelling.
- This option may be good if you only travel to the US a couple of times a month or less and hardly use your phone. Check with your provider on roaming agreements and charges. Some roaming providers charge a daily roaming fee of $5 or so just to have your phone turned on. Some charge you airtime even though you may choose not to answer your phone. Again, check with your provider since slightly different roaming agreements exist in different states. US airtime roaming costs are outlined in my PCS comparison guide.
- Purchase a handset with an American provider.
- This option may provide you with slightly cheaper airtime, but in general American monthly plans start around $32 CAN for about 30 minutes of airtime. Purchasing a second handset means that you now have two phones to deal with. If you spend several months in the US travelling around in an R.V. then this may be well worth it. In the winter cancel your Canadian phone and activate your US phone, and vice-versa in the summer. Make sure that the US provider has coverage in the states you plan to visit. Several of the smaller providers only have coverage in a few states and it might be worth it to purchase a plan that covers more territory to minimize roaming costs between different American providers.
- Purchase an American pre-paid plan.
- Plans similar to Fido's prepaid, Rogers Pay-as-you-go, Telus Mobility's Pay and Talk, and Bell's Solo exist in the US. These plans may not offer much of a discount over a monthly plan as stated above if you plan to use more than 30 minutes a month.
- Sign up on a Canadian plan that includes US roaming in your monthly airtime:
- There are currently a few different plans that include US roaming in your monthly airtime -- check with your service provider to see if upgrading your existing plan to a new one would be of benefit.
Alternatively, Telus' Mike plans allow roaming between the Canada and US as part of their monthly packages. Telus and Nextel have a unique agreement that allows Mike and Nextel customer's to roam in each other's country without incurring roaming charges. Monthly Mike rates start at $35/month. The disadvantage of this option includes access to only a digital network (digital coverage may not be present outside urban centres) and US-based airtime and long distance charges are in addition to the monthly rate plan.
I travel from the USA to Canada several times during the year. What are my options for inexpensive roaming?
Although this is a Canadian site, I tend to get this question a lot. Without covering all the different service plans across the states, here are some options for Americans visiting Canada frequently:
- Use whatever roaming agreements that are in place between your provider and the provider within Canada.
- Investigate this option carefully since roaming agreements provide a cheaper, but still relatively expensive airtime rate compared to what local users pay. This may be a good option if your trips to Canada are limited to a few times a year and you don't use your cell phone much while here. Both Nextel and AT&T offer plans that include Canadian roaming either at home rates or as part of a monthly service plan. Other local providers may offer something similar.
- Purchase a handset with a Canadian provider
- This option may provide you with cheaper airtime, but means that you have to carry around two phones and ensure that everyone has your Canadian number (or forward one phone to the other). Fido offers monthly banking of unused minutes, so if you were to use 800 minutes in Canada on your bi-monthly trips then the $40/400 plan would work well. You also have the option of cancelling and re-activing a Canadian phone for each trip, but you may not receive the same number and may be charged an activation fee (you get two free changes per year with Fido, unlimited with Telus Mobility/Clearnet).
- Purchase a Canadian pre-paid plan
- Fido's Fidomatic, Rogers Pay-as-you-go, Telus Mobility's Pay and Talk, and Bell's Solo pre-paid plans may be purchased with a handset or may be used on an existing handset (see NAM programming, below). Note that these plans may not offer much of a discount over a monthly plan if you plan to use more than 50 minutes a month. All pre-paid cards also have expiration dates (usually 60 or 90 days from activation).
- Purchase a GSM SIM card
- If your current American phone uses GSM services then you can purchase a SIM card ($25) from Fido, Cityfone, SimPro, or Zero Gravity and swap SIM cards when you get to Canada. Your GSM phone must be unlocked to do this, so check with your local service provider or cell phone store prior to doing this. Some of the more expensive GSM phones on the market are unlocked (especially tri-band GSM phones).
- Program a second NAM into your existing phone
- If your current phone is not locked then you may be able to program a second NAM into your phone and select which NAM to use prior to making calls. Contact your local service provider to see if your handset supports multiple NAMs and if so a cellular dealer can add a second NAM to your phone (or you can do it yourself and save a few bucks).
- Bring along an old analog phone and use Rogers PAYG cards
- If you have (or can borrow) an analog phone then you can use Rogers pre-paid PAYG cards for outgoing calls only. See the pre-paid notes for more details and for card prices. Some users have purchased cheap analog phones for US$20 through Tracfone.
What recommendations do you have to keep your cell phone bills down?
- Subscribe to a plan that best suits your usage of the phone. A cheaper plan may turn into an expensive monthly bill if you are exceeding your monthly allotment of minutes. An expensive plan with lots of included minutes is not efficient if you don't use most of the included minutes.
- Watch the long distance charges. You might be paying up to $0.99/min for long distance calls! Use roaming numbers whenever possible and if you tend to use a lot of long distance then look for a plan that includes it in the monthly rate.
- Don't subscribe to extra features that you don't need.
- Roaming charges are often very expensive. If you do a lot of roaming then look for a plan that includes it in the monthly rate.
- Be extremely careful near borders! Your phone may use a signal from your non-home network and you will incur roaming charges. If your phone has a network setting feature, set it to 'Home' instead of automatic so that it will not place calls through a roaming provider.
- Call forward your phone to a landline to cut down on airtime charges. Most providers impose a limit or duration of call forwarded calls per month, but if you exceed this limit (e.g., 1000 min/month), the costs are often expensive.
- Retrieving your voice mail messages usually costs airtime. Some providers allow you to listen to your voice messages for free if you are calling from a landline.
- Carefully read the fine print on any bonus offers on your plan. Make sure you fully understand their limitations and restrictions.
- Subscribing to a term plan of 1-3 years might give you a credit of a couple of months free over the duration of your contract. Carefully read over the conditions of this credit and contract.
- Watch for special plans offered by providers. These might be of limited duration and may not even be advertised. These plans may be better suited to your needs than the current monthly plan you are on.
- If most of your calls are made on the weekends or during evening hours then look for a plan that offers unlimited evenings and weekends.
I have unresolved issues with my provider. Where can I vent these?
If you are having issues with your service provider then discuss them with fellow reader of this site on our forums at GeckoBeachForums.com.
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