The combined 4G LTE and 5G networks of Telus, Rogers, and Bell currently service 97% of Canadians. With such an enormous market share between them, what really are the differences between Canada’s Big Three? Details below.
If you live in Canada, there’s a 97% chance that your cell phone operates on one of three networks: Telus, Rogers, or Bell. As of this writing, Telus leads its two main competitors in coverage area, overall speed, reliability, and customer service rating. (Note: some smaller brands rate even higher for customer service.)
All 3 major Canadian providers now offer 5G coverage (as of June 2020). Though availability is limited, many dozens of additional Canadian markets are expected to be added by the end of this year.
But when it comes to the basics of cell phone service, their networks and prices don’t really look that different from each other. There certainly are differences, however. In this article, we’ll discuss what makes each company unique in addition to briefly going over alternative Canadian providers like Virgin Mobile, Koodo, Fido, and others.
Rogers began as a cable television provider, while Telus and Bell both started out as telephone companies. Eventually, all three companies added home broadband internet to their list of offerings. From there, they grew leaps and bounds, offering an ever-expanding list of services. Today, all three companies still offer everything already mentioned. But now, nationwide wireless services have become the priority for Canadians. As a result, Bell, Rogers, and Telus have built themselves into cellular network powerhouses.
In 2021, these three providers together cover almost 100% of every cellphone-carrying Canadian. However, the consensus concern based on customer feedback from all three companies is price. Data plans in Canada are some of the highest in the world and seem to be designed for customers wanting premium services rather than catering to every kind of user.
Is This True? If So, Why?
Many Canadians believe that Telus, Rogers, and Bell conspire with each other in an effort to take advantage of consumers, raising prices on services simply because they can. The issue with this accusation is that it simply isn’t true. Yes, Canada has a higher concentration of telecom market share compared to other countries. And yes, the Canadian telecom landscape is highly protected. But these things don't automatically translate into an exploitative monopoly. Plus, there are MANY alternatives available to every Canadian that we'll get into further down this article.
Yes, Telus, Rogers, and Bell serve 9 out of every 10 Canadians. And yes, it’s been interesting to observe price matching between these three companies over the years. When one changes the price on a particular plan, the others tend to follow suit shortly after. Where prices and plan details are concerned, Canada’s Big Three are surprisingly in step with each other.
However, there’s just no evidence showing that these companies have been directly or indirectly undercutting or hindering their competition. If you’re looking for proof of some kind of organized collusion, it simply isn’t there.
But this doesn’t change the fact that so many Canadians are unhappy with their country’s telecom situation as it currently stands. The dissatisfaction appears to come from the fact that most Canadians simply do not use vast amounts of mobile data that premium cell phone plans boast. Sure, some do, and such plans are great for them. But so many others feel they are overpaying.
It’s worth noting that in 2019, Rogers lowered considerably their prices on many of their plans, even simplifying each option to make choices clearer and easier for consumers. They even got rid of data overage charges and added many new perks. And as expected, Telus and Bell followed suit. Though the prices are still considered premium rates, Canadians should be happy about this.
Here’s the thing. There are alternatives. If you would prefer to try something other than Bell, Rogers, or Telus, there are lots of options to choose from. In fact, these three companies themselves own flanker brands (as they’re affectionately called in Canada) to provide consumers with more choices that fit the needs of the individual. For example:
- Lucky Mobile (Bell)
- Virgin Mobile (Bell)
- Fido (Rogers)
- Chatr (Rogers)
- Koodo (Telus)
- Public Mobile (Telus)
What Is A Flanker Brand?
In simple terms, these are smaller brand names that piggyback off the networks of the Big Three and offer cheaper monthly plans. These companies often target younger audiences in their marketing. They offer more customizable options such as prepaid services and other reduced features.
The cell phone plans with these alternate companies are great but may not be for everybody. For example, Lucky Mobile offers big-data plans on the cheap, but the download speeds are slower than what you would get when going with Bell directly. Flanker brands usually don’t offer 5G and other premium options like bundling or data sharing. But what they do offer is a really good balance of features and price. In almost every case, you get reliable service and great coverage since flanker brands use the networks of their parent companies. There’s lots of evidence online to suggest that these alternative providers have even better customer service ratings than their parent networks.
Comparing The Plans & Financing Options Of The Big Three
Now that we’ve mentioned some alternate options that you can explore if you feel inclined, let’s get back to the differences between Telus, Bell, and Rogers specifically.
They all offer unlimited data plans but prices between networks can differ in some cases. For the most part, unlimited data plans with each company start at around $75 per month. But if you live in certain provinces - namely Quebec, Manitoba, or Saskatchewan - it can be less expensive. Combining multiple lines onto one bill can also save money on these plans.
The thing is, though, there are restrictions with these unlimited data plans. The main one being that when you exceed the data limit you’re paying for (typically 10GB, 20GB, or 50GB) your speeds go down. Fortunately, you’re not charged extra when you go over.
Outside the unlimited data plans, your options are very limited. This is a reason why we recommend exploring flanker brands if you’re looking to save money, especially if you know you won’t need very much data.
Though the financing options between the companies at the moment are very similar, there’s still one important thing to think about first rather than blindly choosing one.
One thing that’s different between the companies when it comes to financing is promotion. Different phones are discounted at different times depending on the provider. Make sure to take a look at what discounts each network is offering and see if one fits your needs over another. Hundreds of dollars can be saved over the 2-year financing period if you’re wise about this.
Note: Rogers, Bell, and Telus offered 36-month financing options at one point (to popular demand). They were forced to remove it from their list of offerings until the CRTC decides on whether or not it is in violation of the Wireless Code of Conduct. Though many are confused as to why the CRTC would deem this a possible infraction of the Code, it’s still not an option for customers until further notice.
Reliability & Network Coverage
As of this writing, Rogers takes the award for best overall coverage (this includes 3G, 4G LTE, and 5G availability). According to their website, their signal reaches 97% of Canadians. Rogers also has another advantage over its competitors when it comes to rural areas. Their 3G network is still alive and well; so much so, in fact, that it provides adequate coverage for many people living in rural Canada. What’s more, they’ve created an extended coverage option that provides service for some folks in very rural areas, outside Rogers designated coverage areas. (Data is often not included in these extended coverage plans.)
But when we’re talking just 4G LTE coverage, Bell and Telus are the current champions. They combined forces to create the biggest 4G LTE network in Canada. It even reaches into the Canadian wilderness in some areas. If you take the total coverage areas of Bell and Telus together, it’s estimated to cover 99% of Canadians. (Bell and Telus do not offer 3G networks anymore. So phones over 5 years old usually don’t work on these networks.)
Telus and Bell are independent networks despite sharing many cell towers. In the reliability and speed arenas, Telus is slightly ahead of Bell. However, Bell gets better in these areas the further east you go. This is in large part due to the fact that Montreal is Bell’s home base and Vancouver is Telus’s.
When it comes to customer service, there’s one Canadian provider that has come out on top consistently for many years, and it’s not one of the Big Three. It’s Virgin Mobile. In fact, many of the flanker brands outdo their parent companies in customer service ranking. But if you’re wondering how the major providers stack up against each other in customer service, Telus ranks the highest, then Rogers, followed by Bell.
Rogers launched the first Canadian 5G network. Telus and Bell launched theirs very soon after. By the end of 2021, all three providers will almost certainly have 5G available in dozens of Canadian markets respectively.
Will These Carriers Let Me Bundle My Cell Phone Bill With My Phone, Internet, and Cable?
Unfortunately, no. You can of course bundle the latter three and save money. But, at the moment, neither Telus, Bell, nor Rogers lets customers add their cell phone plan to the mix. But, remember that each of these companies offers discounts for customer loyalty. We’ve even heard of customers getting separate loyalty discounts for multiple services.
It’s also worth mentioning that they all have family share options which is a great way to save money. You can add not only additional phone lines but smartwatches and tablets, as well. Rogers and Telus even have data management tools that allow you to do things like set customized data limits on specific devices.
So Which Of Canada’s Big Three Is The Best?
I know this isn’t the answer many of you are hoping for, but, like we already said, it depends. Yes, they all have nationwide coverage. They all offer 5G and all sorts of other things. But honestly, it depends on what you need, where you live, and what your usage habits are. That being said, Telus and Bell have the best network coverage footprint. Telus has the fastest speeds and the highest rated customer care. And Rogers tends to have the best rural coverage.
Still, there are individual factors and circumstances that can render these statements inaccurate. Give us a call if you have more questions.
Conclusion - Final Thoughts
- If you live in Quebec or Saskatchewan, you may want to check out Videotron and SaskTel. These are local wireless carriers that are available only to Canadians living in these areas and they often have great deals. In response, however, Telus, Rogers, and Bell sometimes run unique deals in these areas in order to compete.
- Do you live in Manitoba? You may want to check out MTS. They’re a wireless carrier only available in Manitoba and they offer really low rates. MTS uses Bell’s network.
- If you live in Alberta, B.C., or Ontario, give Freedom Mobile a look. It’s not available in every single area within these provinces, but if it’s available where you are, it’s worth exploring. They have big data plans that are very inexpensive.
- In March 2021, it was announced that Shaw Communications is being acquired by Rogers Communications. As you know, these are the two largest cable providers in Canada. This merger will result in the creation of the 2nd largest telecom company (Bell will still be 1st) as well as the nation’s largest cable provider. It will without a doubt affect Canada’s wireless market permanently, and more than likely for the better. The CBC (Competition Bureau of Canada) as well as other federal departments still needs to approve the deal.