Best Mobile Data Provider for Smartphones in Canada

You're traveling to a new country and either because you have a prepaid in your home country without roaming privileges, or because roaming is too expensive, you want to get a local SIM card to send and receive text messages (SMS), check your email and use Google Maps for directions. Where do you go and what do you get? In this series, we’ll have an answer (or more) for you for the countries we are travelling to most often. Today, Canada.

speakoutI find Internet access to be particularly important. I do not need voice or SMS services from a cell phone provider (I get these free via apps), but I do need Data (i.e., Internet via 4G, 3G or ‘H’). That is because I can use VoIP at costs far below what any mobile phone provider can charge me via WiFi or a Data (mobile Internet) connection. My VoIP provider for instance, EZvoip.co, charges $0.01 / min for the numbers I call the most. There are even free providers, such as Fongo, though their quality is often lacking. Using a Data / Internet connection, I am able to send free SMS to North America, and at low cost in the rest of the world (often times free) via Google Voice, Heywire, Textplus and many other apps that provide such services and free incoming phone numbers. And last but not least, I can check my email and Facebook messages.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation whatsoever (other than being a user) with either Ztar, Speakout Wireless or any of the apps I mention below.

LE: After giving up on Speakout, the best deal in terms of Data was from TbayTel, a regional provider from small town Ontario - $100 for 20 GB for one year - though it might be possible to extend the expiry date by adding new credit. If you travel to USA, consider T-Mobility (US$2-3/day) or RoamMobility (CN$4-5/day) .

Due to a small market and poor regulation (the regulator, CRTC, was often overruled by corrupt government officials, such as the Federal Industry Minister, in favor of technical monopolies such as Rogers; after having acquired Fido, Rogers controls all GSM telephony in Canada), Canadians pay some of the highest rates in OECD (see links below, in Sources: om-choice and om-upgrade).  This recently produced chart details these onerous charges:

cellphone-data-plans-infographic

The only way to avoid paying an arm and a leg is to use one of Rogers resellers, namely either Speakout Wireless (sold in 7-11 stores) or the Petro Canada branded service, sold in the gas stations with the same name. Though the two services are similar and operated by the same reseller, Ztar Mobile, we will detail only the former, as Petro Canada refills last only 180 days as opposed to the 365 days with Speakout Wireless; only a $100 refill will last 365 days with Petro Canada. Most Petro Canada pumps are located outsided the downtown core of major cities as well as Quebec, while 7-11 stores are closer to downtown cores and not present in Quebec. Both websites have store locators.

To activate your card, you will need an unlocked phone or a phone locked to Rogers network – Fido locked phones, though Fido is a Rogers subsidiary, will not work. You will need to use an IMEI number (which can be generated, link below). To use your own IMEI, dial *#06#. Activation can be done via their website or simply by calling them at 866-310-1023.

If you find a better offer with “unlimited browsing” (UMB) in Canada for $13.25/month after taxes, please let us know. Note that UMB is limited usually to port 80 (which means browsing and a few basic apps) but has no limit in the amount of data; it may be possible to improve on the port limitation as explained below so that it can be used with virtually any app.

  • Unlimited Data: $10/month
  • 911 fees: $1.25/month
  • Caller ID: free!
  • Voicemail: free! (airtime via phone, free by calling number + # during greeting)
  • Conference calling: free!
  • Call waiting: free!
  • Incoming texts: free!
  • Outgoing texts: 10cents/txt
  • International texts: 35cents/txt
  • Local calling: 25cents/min
  • Long distance: 45cents/min
  • Increments: 1min
  • Lowest prepaid refill: $25
  • All credits / refills last for 365 days
  • Available Canada-wide including Quebec except for Yukon, NWT & Nunavut
  • Regular promotions such as free SIM card (may be $10 otherwise) and bonus $25 with $100 airtime purchase
  • Credit, features, phones and SIM card may be ordered via the website or by toll-free phone, usually with free shipping; auto refill available
  • To activate any monthly billed feature you must have at least feature cost + $2 and expiry date more than 30 days

For comparison purposes, during September 2013, Wind Mobile offered unlimited data, province-wide talk & global text for $33/month, but their coverage is not as wide as Rogers’ and they use a different frequency than regular GSM, which is not supported by most phones. For most providers, unlimited Data plans start at around $30 / month and come bundled with other services you might not need.

Wind also offers “data only” plans with a “Mobile Internet USB stick E1691” in 4 tiers:

  • $2/hr up to $5/day max, unlimited
  • $15/month – 1GB + extra @ $0.01/MB
  • $25/month – 3GB + extra @ $0.01/MB
  • $35/month – “unlimited” 10GB / month at full speed

Virgin Mobile offers Flexi-Data in 3 tiers:

  • $5/month – 10 MB (ppu up to 25 MB)
  • $15/month – 250 MB (ppu up to 300 MB and $10 up to 100 MB)
  • $35/month – 5 GB + $0.015/MB (ppu up to 1 GB @ $20 and up to 3 GB @ $30; Novatel Ovation MC547 data stick available)

Most major providers offer basic plans that include 100 MB of “full” data and little else starting at $20 / month. Unlike Speakout Wireless, their prepaid credits expire in 30 days or so and some do not offer data for prepaid plans.

Nota Bene: Ztar is experimenting with offering full Data services which are likely to cost more than the current “unlimited browsing” or UMB. This was initially supposed to happen months ago, but was delayed.

For the Speakout Wireless or Petro Canada Internet to work, you need to make sure that your only APN (or, in some cases, the first on your list) has the following settings. For some reason, these settings may get wiped out, in which case you will have to re-enter them.

  • Name: Speakout
  • APN: goam.com
  • Proxy: 10.128.1.69
  • Port: 80
  • Username: wapuser1
  • Password: wap
  • Server:
  • MMSC: http://mms.gprs.rogers.com
  • MMS Proxy: 10.128.1.69
  • MMS Port: 80
  • MCC: 302
  • MNC: 720
  • Authentication Type:
  • APN type: default,supl,mms
  • APN Protocol: IPv4

Or use the following as suggested in the FAQ:

  • Homepage http://wap:8582/start.wml
  • Connection security: Off
  • Active Bearer: GPRS
  • Connection type: GPRS Attach on Demand
  • Authentication Type:
  • Normal Access Point Name: goam.com
  • User Name: wapuser1
  • Password: wap
  • Login Type: Automatic
  • Primary Proxy Server Setting 10.128.1.69
  • Primary Proxy Server Port: 80

If your Internet stops working, it’s likely due to these settings having become corrupted or deleted. In most Android phones, you get to the APN while NOT in Airplane mode (i.e., your phone must be on the network). Go to Settings –> Data / More –> Mobile networks –> Access Point Names.

Most widely-used apps, including Google’s, should work without rooting / iptables / “proxyfication”.

  • Google Maps (a GPS enabled map service that doesn’t use space on your phone, is free, but allows Google to store your trail in the physical world)
  • Google Voice (some notifications may be delayed or appear only after sending)
  • Regular Browsing – Opera, Chrome, Firefox, Android Stock Browser
  • Heywire (provides free number in USA for incoming texts – free outgoing texts to USA, Canada, China and 45 other countries in South & Central America; also available on the web)
  • Textplus (provides free LOCAL number for incoming texts and free outgoing texts to USA and Canada)
  • Evernote (easily share data between your smartphone and your computer)
  • Google Keep (Evernote clone using Google Drive)
  • National Post (read a pretty good Canadian newspaper)
  • Metro (read the news in your local Canadian city)
  • 1Weather (get the weather forecast and current conditions in the cities that interest you)
  • Google People (Android Directory)
  • Hailo (hail a taxi in most major cities w/o having to give your address – your phone finds that)
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Mail (Gmail)

Important apps that require further tweaking:

  • Skype
  • CSipSimple (and any other VoIP / SIP app)
  • Fongo (free number and free phone calls in and to major cities)
  • Instagram
  • Facebook (full functionality)
  • TuneIn Radio (play and record Internet radio streams)
  • YouTube

By “further tweaking” we mean installing an app that forces the other apps to access the Internet via the proxy imposed by Ztar / Rogers such as ProxyDroid or AutoProxy. You may also use the barcode displayed here to go to the forum where it can be downloaded. Note, however, that you need a “rooted” Android phone for this to work and you might have to install iptables first.

Yet another possible tweak is to use a VPN with an app such as OpenVPN (official), though we have yet to explore this possibility as well.

Finally, though officially prohibited, it is possible to tether your computer and use your phone “unlimited browsing” as an Internet / full Data connection. Make sure your usage is reasonable, otherwise your account might be suspended. You may connect via USB, Bluetooth or Wireless Internet – just remember to set the proxy above in the “Internet Options”. For programs on your computer that don’t “honor” the proxy settings, you might want to use Proxifier, tun2socks, sockscap, sockschain, TransparentProxy. It is also possible to force Proxy Setting via Group Policy in Windows 7, though this is probably of little use for our task.

Sources / More info: spkow711, om-choice, om-upg, vice, wiki-spkow, ProxyDroid, su-proxf, IMEI-gen, onln-IMEI-gen, freenode #android-root, gn-best, lh-travel, sg-us, virgin, cw-usroam

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