Canadians now pay the highest cellphone bills in the
by Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver
September 21-27, 2010 issue #1091 High Tech Office column
Here are two sets of statistics about the cost of mobile phone plans –
one from the U.S., the second worldwide.
First, a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)
(http://tinyurl.com/257v63g) reported that over the past decade, the
U.S. has seen increased “consolidation among wireless carriers”
together with “increased use of wireless services by consumers.”
By the end of the period studied, four carriers accounted for 90% of
the U.S. wireless market. Less competition equals higher prices, right?
Not this time. According to the GAO’s figures, 2008 prices were half of
their 1999 equivalent (after accounting for inflation).
Is the same true in Canada?
Here, despite the recent entrance of a few more competitors, the three
major players – Rogers/Fido, Telus and Bell – also have the bulk of the
While U.S. (and I assume Canadian) wireless prices have dropped,
consumers – U.S. and Canadian – are, as the GAO reported, making much
heavier use of wireless services, both voice and data. The GAO reports
average monthly minutes used rose from about 250 in 2000 to about 700
As a result, even if rates have fallen, your bill may in the end be the
same or higher. And the GAO’s data supports that – a chart shows
average revenue per user dropping for voice services, but rising for
The end result is that revenue per user has held steady over the 2000
to 2009 period.
And that brings us to the second set of data, which was reported in
August by Wirelessnorth.ca (http://wirelessnorth.ca/?p=963). It looked
at Q1 2010 data from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch that included
more than 50 countries. Charting average revenue per user (US$/month)
we’re No. 1, though paying the most per user may not be something to
Averaging about US$55, Canadian mobile users barely beat out Japan.
U.S. users were in third place (paying just under US$50).
Korea, Singapore and various European users were in the middle of the
pack, with average monthly per-user costs between US$30 and US$40;
consumers in China, Russia and India were at the bottom, averaging
As the mobile networks often point out, Canada is a huge country with
vast empty spaces.
But so is Russia, and a large percentage of the Canadian population
lives in a relatively small swath in the lower 150 kilometres of the
These figures didn’t include taxes and other government charges that
may be tacked onto the bills, but do include voice and data charges.
Apparently, Canadians pay a bit less for a minute of data, on average,
than Americans (US$0.10 versus $0.11); Canadians, however, are charged
more miscellaneous fees, which drives up the final monthly total.
Look at what percentage of the population has mobile accounts and the
picture gets more complex.
Canada (with the highest average costs), India and China (with some of
the lowest average costs) have some of the lowest penetration rates –
ranging from about 45% to 70%. Greece is No. 1 with over 200% - more
than two mobile phones per person – followed by Portugal and Russia. At
around 85%, the U.S. bests Canada, but is still in the bottom third of
According to Wirelessnorth.ca, Canada has some of the fastest 3G+ data
networks in the world.
That’s a good thing.
We also lead the world with three-year contract lengths, perhaps less
of a good thing.
Putting all this data together prices – per minute of voice use or per
megabyte of data – have fallen over the past decade or so, but what
each of us is paying at the end of each month has been relatively
And relative to other countries, we’re paying more – and are locked in
Wirelessnorth.ca’s conclusion: “it’s 2010 and Canadians pay the highest
cellphone bills in the world.”