Choose a data-only cell phone plan to save big on your mobile bill

Posted by amcink October 27, 2015 0 Comment 2703 views

When it comes to cell phone plans, Canadians have precious little choice.

The plans that come out of the “big three” carriers (RoBelUs, as they’re sometimes known) are all variations on a theme. There’s no real innovation happening because the carriers don’t need to innovate. Because the big three have a cozy relationship with each other, there’s no real competition between then either. In the end, you choose the plan that comes closest to meeting your needs from the carrier you dislike the least.

No, this isn’t going to turn into our manifesto on the sad state of cell phone service in Canada… though it very easily could.

Instead, this is a ray of hope: A way for mobile users to get exactly what they need (talk, text and data) without signing on for a 2-year term, without paying a monthly cell phone bill that’s north of $50 and without giving up too much.

Going data-only

Bell has a data plan that’s designed specifically for tablets or other data-only devices. It’s called the Flex Plan for Tablets. It’s reasonably priced: The $5/mo. keep-alive fee includes 10 MB of data. That 10 MB (1/100th of a gig) is really just a cushion to avoid accidental overages. It’s theoretically possible to have a $5 cell phone bill if you’re exceptionally careful and you’re around Wi-Fi all the time. For me, that’s far, far too constraining. The additional $15 for up to 1 GB of data will be money well spent for most users.

So, when you exceed 10 MB, you’re bumped up to the $20 / 1 GB level. Provided you’re not a daily commuter who’s watching videos and streaming music all the way, 1 GB is an easy milestone to get in under.

On months you exceed 1 GB, you’re bumped up to the $40 / up to 5 GB level. It’s a big jump but it’s not so huge that I’m going to worry too much if I occasionally decide to go over the $20 / 1 GB level.

If, for example, we’re driving all over town and I didn’t pack along the hard drive full of kid’s shows for my son to watch via the iPad in the back of the car, I’m happy enough to basically pay $20 to stream some Netflix, and I appreciate the flexibility to do so that the plan offers.

What’s the catch?

You’ll want to go in with your eyes open here: The biggest gotcha is the lack of any voice minutes or text messages within the plan. Personally speaking, my smartphone is already a data-first device… but I still need to be reachable with text and voice.

The solution is to use voice / text over data. From my searching, I’ve found a few options, each of which has its own unique benefits and drawbacks.

While it’s possible to make and receive calls with the number associated with the Bell LTE SIM card, the rates are onerous to say the least (something like $0.75/min, if I understand correctly). I’m still looking for a way to turn off voice calls and text messages at the source so I can’t accidentally make or take a call on the Bell number.

I’ve been using Fongo for voice calls and text messages and, while I miss the “baked in” phone and text messaging part of Android, I haven’t found it to be too big an adjustment. Whatever hassles I’ve run into are more than offset by my monthly cell phone bill of about $23 + taxes. That’s $20 for the 1 GB Bell data-only plan plus about $2 for a monthly Fongo texting subscription that allows me to send text messages to non-Fongo numbers plus about $1 for the occasional call to the US.

All in all, I’m quite happy with the solution I’ve arrived at. At least for the time being.

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