For those of you who don't use a cell phone very often, or simply for emergencies, the prepaid wireless option that some providers offer can be the most cost effective solution.  There really isn't one provider that will suit everyone as they both market their products towards a specific group of people.  Some plans offer perks like cheaper long distance, unlimited data, longer expiry times on refills, or cheap after hours minutes.

I'm currently on a contract plan with one of the bigger providers in Canada, but I'm looking to go move into the "pay as you go" route as my cell phone usage as gone way down.

The biggest perks of prepaid cell phone access are:

  • Unused minutes roll over to the next month
  • No monthly system access fee charge (except for bell).
  • Voice mail and Caller ID are usually included 

One thing that really bugs me about cell phone contracts is the damn $6.95/month system access fee gouge that they conveniently tack onto the monthly bill.  I believe that there is a lawsuit pending on this fee and whether or not it's legitimate.

As a low cell phone minute user, I did a little digging around for the best pre paid wireless provider in Canada. From my research, here are the specs of some of the more popular "pay as you go" providers: 

Company $/Min LD$/Min Refill / Expiry (days) Text out Text in Free Incoming VM SAF? Auto Top Up?
7/11 $0.20 $0.30 $25/365, $50/365, $75/365, $100/365 $0.05 $0.05 Yes No No, Store only
Bell $0.30 $0.40 ? ? ? ? $3.95 ?
PC Mobile $0.20 $0.25 $25/60, $15/30 $0.15 Free Yes No Yes
Petro Canada $0.20 $0.10 $20/180, $50/180, $75/180, $100/365 $0.05 $0.05 Yes No No, Store only
Rogers $0.40 $0.30 Minimum top ups /month $0.15 Free No No Yes
Telus $0.25 $0.30 $10/30, $25/60, $50/60 $0.15 Free Yes No Yes
Virgin Mobile $0.30 $0.25 $100/365, $50/120, $25/90, $15/45 $0.15 Free Yes No Yes

There is quite a bit of selection, but each company has their good and bad points. 

  • 7/11 and Petro Canada both have great / min rates and long expiry dates on thier top ups.  The down side being that the top ups are only available in store.  The convenience factor is an important factor to me, and considering that we don't have any 7/11's in NL, it's out of the picture for me.  These companies offer the best "Emergency" cell phone as you can purchase one top up and it'll be good for a year.
  • PC Mobile and Telus are similar and seem promising as they both have a decent / minute rate, fair pricing on the other features and convenient automatic credit card top ups.  The only down side with those guys their longest expiry is 60 days.  Also note that Telus has a better phone selection than PC Mobile.
  • Rogers is a little more on the expensive side of things with extra charges for incoming voice mail.  For example, if someone leaves you a 2 minute voice mail, Rogers will charge you 4 minutes.  2 for the person leaving the message and 2 more for listening to it.  Rogers does though have nicer phones along with perhaps the most competitive / min rates if you pre-pay at least $20 / month.
  • Virgin Mobile has higher than average / min calling rate but they come through with their long 365 day expiry on their $100 top up cards. 

If you are in the market for a prepaid phone, the choices out there can be overwhelming.  Best thing to do is to write a list of what you "need" from a phone and select the corresponding company that suits your purposes for the best price.

Are you on prepaid wireless?  I would like to hear from your experiences with your respective companies. 

58 Comments

  1. George on February 20, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Seraphex: I think caveat emptor applies to your situation. Why would you trust a 7-11 clerk to give you accurate information about cell phones? Just because they sell the things, doesn’t mean they know anything about them.

    I speak from experience – my local 7-11 seems to hire a continuous rotation of people lacking social skills and brain cells.

  2. AllAboutTheBen on March 4, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Unfortunately, PrePaid plans don’t come with the latest, coolest phones for only $99. For example, a BlackBerry Curve will cost you $400 to use with a prepaid plan.

    Instead, I bought my SIM unlocked BlackBerry Curve (mildly used) off of eBay for a fraction of that cost and I use T-mobile’s prepaid service at $0.10/minute. I just plugged the T-mobile prepaid SIM into my Curve and it works like a gem. This doesn’t give me internet access; but, I now have a prepaid mobile phone with a killer PDA and music player instead of an antiquated and featureless prepaid plan phone.

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  4. Graham on April 16, 2008 at 4:52 am

    Bought a 120 airtime card at only $ 29.99 from TracFone and received a Motorola V170 cell phone absolutely free…….!

  5. Ms Raymond on July 26, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I just call 7/11 speakout, they don’t do unlimited incoming,But i am looking for a calling card only with unlimited incoming in the USA.If someone can help me on this one that would be great.

  6. cindy thompson on March 28, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    WARNING – Roger’s pay go custumer service is hell. I’m paying 40 cents a minute and I am charged from the moment I hit send.

    Was at 3 stores. 3 different answers. Called costomer service. Closed on weekends for pay go customers. So tried the online help. Found life person who was polite but told me to call a no. that just transfered me to the closed phone line.

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  8. Chuckie on April 19, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Any idea if Virgin is going to increase the expiry on their sub-100 cards? I don’t want to bu a $100 card in case I lose my phone I also lose an additional $100 but the 30 day (or is it 45) expiry on their lowest card is ridiculous. 180 days would be nice.

  9. George on April 19, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    @Chuckie: I doubt that they’ll increase the expiry any time soon – the trend has been the opposite.

    The good news is that if you lose the phone you don’t “lose” the $100 – one phone call is all it takes to have the phone disabled, and you can switch the balance over to a new phone. Buy a replacement handset, and you’re back in business.

  10. Lisa on July 11, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    The 7-11 plan looks great to me, but I am worried about signal. I want to be able to use this phone when I go camping, so do you know who’s towers/satalites they read from? Do they get there signal from one of the bigger name companies like bell, telus or rogers?

  11. Kathryn on July 11, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Lisa: They use the same signal as Bell. Basically it’s the same coverage as Bell which is pretty similar to Rogers coverage. It depends on where you’re camping. I had coverage at the entrance to Algonquin but not on site.

  12. George on July 11, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Kathryn/Lisa: that’s not correct – the 7-11 “speakout” wireless uses the same network as Rogers, not Bell. It’s Virgin Mobile that uses the Bell network.

    In either case, the signal strength will be the exact same as for the “big name” network.

  13. Phil Chips on August 26, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    I use Telus, as long as we automatically renew monthly the minutes carry forward forever. We pay $10/m automatically and the unused minutes roll forever. The downside, we cannot use the Telus prepaid in the U.S..

  14. Jerome on December 5, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Petro Canada plans can be topped up….time purchased online

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