First published on January 6, 2008
Note: this review will slowly become out of date. Information on 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless is now maintained at http://www.speakoutwireless.ca
Because 7-Eleven doesn’t run annoying mass media ads, you might not have heard of its cell phone service. When I first learned about it, I thought: “7-Eleven? They sell Slurpees. I used to buy sports cards from there. And they sell long distance phone cards and lately they sell Virgin Mobile phones. But their own service? Really?”
In December 2006, I wrote about why I switched from Rogers Wireless Pay As You Go to 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless. To sum that article up, I don’t use my cell phone much — perhaps 100 minutes or less per month. If you have similar cell phone usage, consider a prepaid / pay as you go plan, and more specifically, 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless.
It’s been just over a year and I absolutely love Speak Out Wireless. In fact, I even started a website for its users (and no, I don’t work for 7-Eleven!). Here’s an outline as to why I think Speak Out Wireless is so good.
The cell phone scene in Canada
Surprisingly, there are more carriers than you might think. But when you look closer, cell-phone-wise, Canada is the land of three-year contracts, prepaid plans that charge system access fees (Bell charges you $3.95 per month… making it hardly “pay as you go” if you ask me), and the absence of off-the-shelf SIM cards (which is common in the US and many parts of Europe). Expectations are already low for the consumer. Speak Out Wireless is what I consider a no-nonsense service that eschews most of the things that I dislike about Canadian cell phone services providers.
A note before I continue: Petro Canada has a similar cell phone service to 7-Eleven (both services are run by the same company), so if those gas stations are more common in your area, you might want to check that out.
7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless features
I encourage you to check the front page of speakoutwireless.ca, which is an FAQ about its prepaid account features.
Here are the main reasons why I like 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless:
- 20 cents per minute in Canada, 5 cents for incoming and outgoing text messages in Canada: Cheap, uncomplicated rates. Everybody gets the same rate at all times of the day. [Update: In July 2008, they upped the calling rate to 25 cents per minute] [Update: In October 2009, they changed the outgoing text message cost to 10 cents per message and made incoming texts free]
- Airtime vouchers or $25, $50, $75 and $100 all last 365 days: Some months I might use $5 of airtime. In other months I might use $20 of airtime. One thing I never have to worry about is when the airtime is going to expire. No wasted “hey, I need to use up my minutes” calls or “I’m topping up not because I need the airtime but so that I can carry over previous airtime” situations.
- Call display, call waiting, and voice mail are included: No hidden rates here. There’s a monthly $0.99 911 fee, and when you check voice mail from your cell phone, you are charged regular airtime minutes. You aren’t charged when people leave voice mail messages or when you check your voice mail from a landline.
- Instantly activated: You don’t have to give them any personal information. The second you walk out of the store, the phone has a phone number and works.
- 7-Eleven stores are quite common: It’s easy to buy phones and airtime when the store is just around the corner. I’ve even done phone and airtime transactions with fellow neighbours on the unofficial consumer website. While there are no 7-Elevens in Quebec, you can try Petro Canada Mobility, which is very similar to this service.
- Runs on the Rogers footprint: You might think it’s a small-time operation, but it has the same coverage area in Canada as Rogers and Fido.
- Uses GSM phones and SIM cards: GSM and CDMA are the two types of phone networks in Canada. You can tell them apart because only GSM phones use SIM cards. 7-Eleven (as well as Rogers and Fido) uses GSM phones, as well as most of the rest of the world. CDMA phones from Bell, Telus, and others are completely locked to the service provider. Generally, many GSM phones are locked to the service provider, but when you unlock the phones (sometimes for free), they can take any SIM card. Also, you can take a 7-Eleven SIM card and put it in any unlocked North American GSM phone. GSM generally means more freedom!
- Simple account management: It’s a free call from your cell phone to 1) Check your balance; 2) Add money to your account; and 3) Talk to customer service (and there’s no annoying voice recognition menus).
- Good customer service over the phone: The customer service reps over the phone are quite nice. Moving? Call up customer service to switch the phone number assigned to your 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless SIM card. Porting an existing number? They do this quite painlessly too.
Another thing I like is the lack of a commercial nature. There aren’t any Speak Out Wireless cute animals that have nothing to do with the service, nobody tempts you to buy ringtones, and they can’t even mail or e-mail you because you didn’t have to give any personal information to activate the account in the first place.
And as a bonus to the green movement, vouchers are printed on recyclable paper; there are no plastic Speak Out Wireless airtime cards. (Sorry, I had to add that one in.)
I feel that Speak Out Wireless has all of the basics. I never think “if only I could do this with the phone” but then again I have pretty simple needs. I use it as a portable pay phone, for peace of mind if there’s ever an emergency, and to be reachable when I’m off to meet people.
- No international roaming. This might be a good thing as it’s often cheaper to buy a SIM card for your destination than to pay roaming fees.
- No call forwarding.
- The choice of phones from 7-Eleven is rather limited, although since it uses SIM cards, you can put the SIM card in a different unlocked phone and then sell the phone you bought from 7-Eleven.
- There is limited online account management service. Update: As of the end of 2010, you can now check your balance and activate (but not purchase) vouchers online.
- You are charged for text messages received. Some carriers and plans give you free incoming text messages, although their rate for outgoing messages is often more than 5 cents. [Update: In October 2009, they changed the outgoing text message cost to 10 cents per message and made incoming texts free]
- You don’t get to pick what phone number you get. (It’s within your local area, though!)
- You generally cannot walk into a 7-Eleven store to nitpick about the service. The customer service reps there often don’t know much about the company’s cell phone service. You can only return or exchange the phone.
For light cell phone users, I am convinced that 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless is currently the best overall pay as you go cell phone service around. Not everybody will agree with me, as some might think that some of the above-mentioned unavailable features are absolutely necessary. If you have any questions, I encourage you to check out speakoutwireless.ca, which is run independently of 7-Eleven.