Rogers Reveals Its New Service Plans for Blackberry and iPhone

Caveat: This post is mostly for the benefit of Canadians but then again if you’re outside Canada where unlimited data plans are the norm, count your blessings. These plans do have implications for mobile Skype usage costs, such as with iSkoot. Update: maybe it is international – the story has made CNN.com.

Rogers takes major steps towards lower cost data plans for Canadians but they still don’t measure up to US and European benchmarks.

To review the Canadian wireless data scene:

  • Rogers is the only GSM carrier in Canada
  • the iPhone is to be launched July 11 with the introduction of the iPhone 3G.
  • Blackberry Bold will be available on Rogers at some time this summer (indications point to a July launch; seems that Rogers has more HSPA experience than AT&T)
  • Rogers is replacing the Blackberry 8800 with the WiFi-enabled Blackberry 8820.
  • Rogers monthly data plans have been, to be kind, somewhat expensive ($60 for 25MB on Blackberry; $60 for 1GB on an Nokia N95). In one cited example, 500MB of data per month would have cost $1,600.
  • These are the first popular WiFi-enabled phones to be launched by Rogers (their N95 8GB launch two months ago has not exactly been a roaring success). Canadian still don’t have much experience using WiFi access points with smartphones.

As predicted here last fall and discussed again two months ago, the forthcoming Canadian launch of the iPhone with the accompanying Rogers voice/data plans has been accompanied by new Rogers data plans for the Blackberry (at least for those using the Blackberry BIS service). While Rogers offers no unlimited plans, last week I was able to change my Blackberry data plan from $60 for 25MB to $30 for 300MB (4% of my previous per MB cost). Down from the $1600 per month mentioned above, 500MB of data now costs $50 per month. And they now offer overage protection or FlexRate in their plans with incremental costs well below those of previous data plans from $5/MB to $0.50/MB for the first 60MB and $0.03/MB thereafter. Finally to get a feel for your usage, the Rogers Blackberry plans offer unlimited email and browsing for the first one/two/three months of a contract provided you take out a 1/2/3-year contract.

Higher capacity data plans are available; however, I found I was using much less than 25MB per month but I was also cautious with my usage. A good part of the reason for this low usage was related to my heavy use of the WiFi available on my evaluation Blackberry 8820 at my home office, in hotels with accessible WiFi and even at other locations with accessible WiFi — this was especially true when traveling in the U.S.. In a couple of cases I even fired up my Linksys Travel Router to convert an wired Ethernet connection to an WiFi access point in my hotel room.

On doing a comparison of combined voice and data plans I found the Blackberry plans to be slightly (~5%) less than iPhone plans comparing 450 voice minutes, 100 Canadian long distance minutes and 1GB of data. Provided you take the $15 Value Pack (required for CallerID) they are equal on issues such as sent text messages and enhanced voice mail.

Here is the key point all the media coverage of the Rogers plans misses. The iPhone comes with WiFi in addition to GSM/EDGE/HSPA.Over the past year many Canadians who bought iPhones out of the U.S. simply limited their Internet access to WiFi access points (on an unlocked iPhone) and never used the voice service; some actually paid the AT&T monthly fee if they traveled frequently to the U.S.. But here are the consequences of the iPhone’s WiFi feature:

  • Rogers iPhone plans include free access to Canadian HotSpot network sites at Starbucks, Second Cup, major airports and other public locations.
  • Home and office use: In Canada some broadband Internet services end up supplying a cable modem/router with WiFi access; at worst it’s a one-time cost of $100 to buy a WiFi-enabled router to create a home or office WiFi access point.

I have now had about 8 months’ experience with the Blackberry 8820 and Nokia N95; as mentioned above I learned how to adopt to maximizing WiFi usage and using the Rogers data network only when absolutely necessary. Speculation at crackberry.com is that Rogers is in the process of launching the Blackberry 8820 to replace the 8800. Check the linked Crackberry.com post for all the activity that can be carried on through a WiFi access point on the 8820; no doubt those same features will carry over to the Blackberry Bold when it becomes available.

But there is one key feature of Blackberries that will not be available on the iPhone (aside from Copy & Paste): Blackberry 8×20’s also support the UMA/GAN protocol. This means that you can also reduce your cellular plan voice minutes by calling through a WiFi access point. T-Mobile has had this service, called T-Mobile @ Home, since their launch last September. Rogers is commencing the offering of similar but more limited service through its Home Calling Zone plan which also is rumored to include free access at Canadian HotSpot Network locations. Relative to T-Mobile’s service, Rogers Home Calling Zone only works for WiFi access points within Canada whereas several of my acquaintances have been able to access T-Mobile’s service through their hotel WiFi services in Europe and Israel.

Neighbourhood Rogers/Bell Cell Tower - Jan 08

Neighbourhood Rogers/Bell Cell Tower - Jan 08

So here are the outstanding questions:

  • Why did Rogers issue a press release announcing their iPhone plans while their customers only learn about their new Blackberry plans via sites such as Crackberry.com? Is this the Apple hype machine in action or has RIM fallen down on the PR opportunity?
  • Why do Rogers data plan rates for enterprises with BES servers remain unchanged at $25 per month for 25MB? One excuse is that this is what is charged by market competitors Bell and Telus (who use CDMA instead of GSM).
  • Why do Rogers’ plans remain much higher than the equivalent AT&T pricing for both iPhone and Blackberry (for both of which AT&T provides unlimited data usage plans)?
  • What role does installed backhaul capacity have in these rates? Is it the need to build out more backhaul capacity that is causing Rogers to only offer “limited” plans. Pictured is a new cell tower near my home; yet I understand, in spite of having a fibre optic connection, it still uses only two T1’s or two E1’s to get back to an Internet consolidation point. (It’s final connection was delayed several months awaiting municipal permits to run the fibre optic line under a major roadway.)
  • When will RIM and Rogers make available the 4.5 firmware upgrade for 8xxx series Blackberries to improve the browsing and HTML email experience, amongst a multitude of other issues addressed? RIM upgraded all their BIS servers over this past weekend in preparation for this new firmware.

Going forward I recommend:

  • Leverage WiFi wherever possible. Download programs, preview Map routes and perform other data intensive activities while at a home or office WiFi access point. On the Nokia N95 I only use data intensive applications such as SlingPlayer (coming soon to Blackberries upgraded to the 4.5 firmware, where available) and Qik.com when in a WiFi zone.
  • For a real mobile phone, the Blackberry 8×20 series or Blackberry Bold: UMA/GAN support (8×20 Blackberries only), Copy & Paste, video services (especially with the Bold), proven battery life, true stereo Bluetooth support and MMS are some of the differentiating reasons.
  • For mobile entertainment: wait for an iPod Touch with GPS and maybe a microphone and use it in WiFi-enabled zones for the iPhone browsing experience – no monthly subscription fees. Meanwhile I’ll stick with my iPod.

The Looming Canadian iPhone Launch Flop: As for the iPhone’s launch in Canada, some early “geek” adopters may rush to get them on the launch day but on reviewing the plans, especially with the incremental costs for voice overage ($0.35 per minute on the two lowest costs plans) along with the data caps, it would appear the only plan that makes any sense for a complete iPhone experience is the highest cost one at $115/month. This is especially true if you want an iPhone to be your primary phone; the overage charges will quickly drive you up a level or two, irrespective of data usage. Even then you need at least the additional $15/month iPhone Value Pack if you want to take advantage of callerID’s ability to locate your caller in your iPhone address book. When combined with the requirement for a three year contract, this is not a plan that is going to really bring the massive uptake the Apply hype machine is trying to generate and Rogers is anticipating. Ah, the iPod Touch offers such a good alternative provided you can live with only using WiFi access points!

Other posts:

Tags: Rogers, iPhone 3G, Blackberry, RIM, Blackberry Bold, Blackberry 8820, Rogers data plans, WiFi, , iPod Touch, T-Mobile @Home, Rogers Home Calling Zone, Crackberry.com, Jack Kapica, Mark Evans, Mathew Ingram

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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