First published on July 8, 2010
For the first time since possibly Fido (before it was acquired by Rogers), Canada has a new major cellular phone network operator: WIND Mobile. While many new wireless companies have formed over the past decade, such as Virgin Mobile, Koodo Mobile, and Speak Out Wireless, they are all either owned by one of the major operators (Telus, Bell, or Rogers) or they lease the usage of the major operators’ networks. WIND Mobile, on the other hand, actually operates its own network, and thus has the ability to be much more of a so-called game changer.
In many ways, WIND is different, for better or for worse! With WIND’s recent Vancouver launch, my curiosity has been piqued. Here are my thoughts and breakdowns of some of WIND’s major details. My goal is not to give a comprehensive review, but rather to share some details to think about when considering WIND.
No contract, almost
WIND’s offerings are contract-free, so figuring out how much the commitment really costs is straightforward… almost. You can cancel starting the next month and you can move on. And you can choose to go prepaid or post-paid on any of its monthly plans. (But don’t confuse prepaid with a true pay-as-you-go arrangement — WIND’s plans are still monthly plans.)
The catch, at least for now, is that you almost certainly will have to buy a WIND phone, and if you decide to leave WIND, you’ll have to have stuck around for 3 months before the phone is useful on other carriers. More details in the next point…
SIMs and phones
First of all, WIND will sell you a SIM card separately, which you could insert into an unlocked phone. So you can technically bring an unlocked phone to use with WIND. In the future this could be handy, but at the moment it is likely not so useful. Unfortunately, WIND uses the 1700 Mhz frequency band (also referred to as AWS), which is only used by some T-Mobile phones and the smaller Canadian wireless company Mobilicity. Up until now, most unlockable phones in North America are GSM phones, running on the 850 Mhz and/or 1900 Mhz frequency bands.
Once you’ve been with WIND for 6 months, the phone is quite useful because you can ask WIND to help you unlock it for a $10 fee. WIND phones are 5-band phones, supporting the AWS band, the North American GSM bands, and the 900 / 1800 Mhz bands used in many other parts of the world, such as Europe. This is unlike some other Canadian carriers such as Koodo, whose phones will only work when you’re using Koodo, leaving you semi-stuck if you want to leave but don’t want to waste your phone. So the selection of WIND-compatible phones is somewhat limited, but WIND phones are compatible on a lot of other networks (even if they were probably forced to do this even be relevant)!
I’m not an avid cell phone model follower, so I cannot comment on the merits of the phones that WIND offers. You definitely don’t have your choice of all of the latest trends, though.
WIND’s parent company is Globalive, which also runs Yak. Yak is best known for its long distance plans, but it also offers high speed Internet and home phone service. WIND’s website does not advertise this, but you can bundle some or all of its offerings in what they call Yak Paks. Pricing is competitive, but make sure you research reviews of Yak’s services and also decide whether you really want to put all your eggs in one basket!
Coverage, “zones”, and plans
WIND’s plans are good for the medium-to-heavy talk and text users. If you’re a light user (less than 100 minutes per month) look for something like pay-as-you-go with Speak Out Wireless. Data / web browsing is a standard add-on. It’s great to see that caller ID, call forwarding, call conferencing, and call waiting are included in all plans. Voicemail, though, is an extra $5 per month unless you’re on the highest plan. In keeping with the long-overdue trend in Canada, there are no extra 911 or system access fees with WIND.
An important and unique concept with WIND is the differentiation between a “WIND Zone” (aka local or almost-local) and an “AWAY Zone” (aka roaming). If you’re in one of the cities where WIND has built a network, you’re in a WIND Zone. Depending on your plan, you get province-wide calls from a WIND Zone; plus possibly unlimited incoming calls when in a WIND Zone; all the way up to unlimited Canada-wide calling from any WIND Zone. Because WIND’s network is relatively new (so far they’re in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa), this will be more of a perk as it grows.
AWAY Zone calls, including all incoming calls in an AWAY zone, are extra even on the most expensive plan. Their AWAY zone coverage map in Canada looks like Rogers’ coverage: in other words, coverage is as good as the other wireless providers but it’s obviously costing WIND to use the other networks. Other carriers have the benefit of a bigger network. At least with WIND you know you’re paying for what costs them and not paying so much when it’s cheaper for them… it’s semi-transparent. The within-Canada “roaming” rate actually isn’t bad (25 cents a minute extra for calls), and an unexpected advantage is that the US roaming rates are the same. WIND seems to beat Telus’, Bell’s, and Rogers’ US roaming rates by a large amount.
You can also roam and call internationally, although like any other Canadian carrier, be prepared to pay exorbitant amounts. If you want to make calls when you’re outside of Canada and the US, it’s usually best to get a SIM card from the local area. And if you regularly make calls internationally from Canada or from the US, get a calling card, use a landline, or use Skype or another VoIP option.
There is unlimited WIND-to-WIND calling (when in a WIND Zone) on every plan. This is consistent with WIND’s apparent approach of letting you benefit from their low marginal costs when you’re using their network — artificial charging of intra-network long distance calls is just not as bad with WIND.
WIND usually has a promo going on. Some of its promotions have included $150 in credit when porting in a number; a free month of service for every new customer you refer; and 50% off plans for the first 6 months. Unlike the established carriers, these are deals worth being called deals, but remember to consider the regular price of the service once your promo has expired!
Also, if you’re an existing customer of another Canadian wireless company and you’re looking for a good deal, remember to try calling your current carrier’s retentions program!
I can’t speak for WIND’s customer service, but they do have a community section on their website where you can post ideas and grievances, and share stories with other users. It’s one step below an actual forum or more fully-featured message board, which is likely a deliberate marketing move.
No WIND zone in Quebec
While you can still roam on WIND Mobile in Quebec, WIND won’t have an official presence in that province unless it partners with Videotron in the future.
Combine the fact that there are so many mobile company options these days, with people’s ever-changing and ever-evolving mobile needs, it’s quite tough to give an overall and/or standalone assessment of any company or its individual plans. WIND Mobile certainly has some unique offerings. It’ll be around for a while and needs to grow its network and phone selection, and see how its initial offerings go. And that’s the extent of what I can conclude. An effective search for a new provider starts with defining your own unique needs, and then seeing what’s out there — WIND Mobile is possibly a good option!