There has been a lot of hype recently about the entry into the marketplace of new cellular telephone companies. Pundits and others on the blogosphere touted their anticipated arrival as a potentially great day for the Canadian consumer as it would teach the big three - Bell, Rogers and Telus - a lesson in humility.
Globealive, operating as Wind Mobile, was the first new entrant off the mark. After a careful perusal of their website and as a rural northern Ontario resident, I was not impressed.
If you live in a Wind Home Zone and expect to use you cell phone to talk within that zone or another Wind Home Zone, it is probably a very good alternative to the existing carriers. At the time of writing, only the Toronto and Calgary Home Zones were operational with a promise of more zones in Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton in 2010. More cities will follow in the out years.
Anything outside a Home Zone is an Away Zone. Since Wind Mobile uses the same GSM/HSPA technology as Rogers and has a roaming agreement with them, the Away Zone coverage mimics the Rogers coverage map. This means that there is no coverage along the Trans-Canada Highway from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay or Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border. The same applies to most of the length of Highway 101 from Wawa to Timmins. There are small pockets of third tier GSM availability across the north if Wind Mobile has executed roaming agreements with them.
Wind Mobile does have consumer friendly features. The most noticeable is that it does not require a customer to sign a 1-3 year contract. One is free to join or leave the network as will and without a penalty. The trade off for this is that Wind Mobile does not subsidize the initial cost of the phone. Wind Mobile's initial offering consists of four options ranging in price from a high of $450.00 for a BlackBerry to a low of $130.00 for a Huawei U7519. The consumer must pay this up front. It also offers a data stick for $150.00. It is unclear if the hardware is "locked".
Wind Mobile does not charge the most hated of add-on fees - the network access fee or a clone of it. It offers three fixed rate plans which are extremely reasonable if a few principles are adhered to. First and most importantly, never leave the Wind Mobile home network. Once the you are outside a Wind Home Zone or not calling another Wind Mobile subscriber, roaming charges, - or AWAY Minute in Wind Mobile speak - are $.25 per minute for voice. There are a number other charges for different off-net scenarios. I suspect there will be some surprise when the early adopters get their first bill.
If one lives and works in a Wind Mobile Home Zone, it is probably a very good product. Unfortunately, there is little direct advantage for anywhere in the District except East Algoma where for a price Wind Mobile could roam on the Rogers network. In directly, the new entrant might put enough pressure on the incumbents to meet or beat the competition.