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Wireless Providers’ Reactions to Number Portability

By Mike Lin

The cell phone market in Canada is going through some interesting times. Number portability has been here for 2 weeks, making it possible to keep your phone number when you change providers. The most visible result of the consumer favourable change has been a shitstorm of advertising. Telus for example, bought the entirety of Toronto’s central St. George subway station. Every billboard, every pillar, and even the floor in some places is covered with Telus branding. Apart from branding the only new message they’ve put out is ‘Take your number and move on up‘, the idea probably being that if you didn’t already know about number portability you wouldn’t get it.

Telus ads

Bell has taken a similar approach, taking large portions of several stations. The picture below is from Osgoode station. The billboards mention that it is now possible to watch Spider Man 2 on a Bell cellphone. Don’t ask who in their right mind would want to watch a movie like Spider Man 2 on their cell phone.

Bell ads

The irony of the situation, of course, is that cell phones don’t even work in the Toronto underground, unlike, I hope, most other subway systems in the world (they work in Taipei’s at least). As for other media, I don’t do TV or radio, but I’d think a similar approach is being applied there.

The larger companies, like Telus and Bell, have the conflicting goals of 1) trying not to inform their customers about number portability, lest they be lured away, and 2) trying to steal away some of the newly freed masses from their competitors, and apparently their marketing departments have decided the optimal solution is to vomit branding everywhere. Nothing to see here with regards to pricing etc.

The interesting stuff is happening at newcomer Virgin Mobile. Previously offering prepaid by-the-minute only service, in anticipation of number portability, they introduced in January a few low minute monthly plans comparable to those offered by other providers. Check out this comparison of 200 minute/month plans. They seem about the same: 200 minutes for $20. But if you look closer, Virgin doesn’t charge a $6.95 ‘system access fee’, nor does it charge $8 for voicemail and caller id. So if you work it out, Virgin’s plan is actually a staggering 44% cheaper.

The small number of cell phone providers in Canada, as well as customer lock-in through lack of number portability, locked phones and long term contracts has resulted in Canada having the most expensive cell phone service in the developed world. Hopefully number portability and Virgin’s refreshing approach are the first steps towards rectifying this dishonour.

2 Responses so far

[...] Mike, as always, comments lucidly about the cellphone market in Canada. [...]

Maybe I’ll put a no grannies disclaimer up… and then maybe I’ll print up some like minded t-shirts to sell you.

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