The phrase still takes many Canadians by surprise. They were told that after they paid out the value of their smartphone over the span of a two-year contract they would own it — but generally ownership means the freedom to do what you like with your property, and ‘locked’ denotes restriction. The two ideas are contradictory.
In reality, once Canadians pay off their subsidized devices they are only free to use those devices on the carriers that sold them. Shopping around to other carriers requires the payment of another fee, the unlocking fee that caused so much debate at the Wireless Code Review in February.
So what’s the story behind unlocking and just how much is it going to cost you? Read on to find out.
What are unlocking fees and why do they exist?
SIM locks are a restriction built into devices by manufacturers, generally at the behest of service providers. SIM locks can be used to lock the device to a particular country, network or mobile subscriber identification number. Most phones can be unlocked, though the original branding and some firmware from the carrier may remain.
The basic idea behind keeping phones locked is to enforce the payment of a device subsidy over two years. The theory is that locking keeps users at their carriers after they purchase a device at a subsidized rate (for instance, $200 down on a $900 phone) rather than just taking the device and leaving behind the bill in order to snag a cheaper, non-subsidized plan rate at another carrier.
There are many holes in this argument, however, the first being that the Wireless Code introduced new rules in 2013 that carriers must provide unlocking services after 90 days. The subsidy amount remains high 90 days into the contract, giving fraudsters ample opportunity to profit off the device — the very abuse that unlocking fees aim to protect against.
Additionally, third-party unlocking services exist that render the entire argument null. The simple fact is that the majority of Canadians would rather not take the credit hit of abandoning their bills, while those who don’t mind can easily find a way to do so with or without the help of the carrier.
Will they continue to exist?
At the review of the Wireless Code held in February in Gatineau, Quebec, Freedom Mobile (formerly Wind) voiced dissatisfaction with the practice of mobile phone unlocking fees. It suggested that Canada’s telecom regulator, the CRTC, take the “bold step” of doing away with unlocking fees and directing carriers to order unlocked devices from manufacturers.
The Consumers’ Association of Canada, the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia, National Pensioners Federation, and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (banding together to form the ‘Coalition’) agreed.
For his part, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais suggested that unlocking fees should be available at a fixed price far below the average charge of $50 CAD.
Meanwhile, the CRTC released aggregated data that showed Canadian telecoms made $37.7 million CAD on unlocking revenue in 2016, generating press and significant public criticism. It’s unknown how much it costs carriers to unlock devices.
It’s also unclear whether or not the unlocking fee will survive much longer, due to its current unpopular position in the eye of the public and the front and centre slot it took during the recent Wireless Code Review. For now, however, MobileSyrup has aggregated the costs and guidelines related to unlocking at Canadian carriers, along with statements on the subject from several of Canada’s largest carriers.
Unlocking fees by Canadian carrier
Fee: $50, or $150 if your account carries a security deposit or is subject to a credit limit.
Guidelines: Can be requested in-store or by phone.
Comment: “The Wireless Code requires wireless service providers to disclose their unlocking fee when a customer is signing up for service. In a competitive marketplace, this information helps consumers make informed decisions about all aspects of their wireless service.
Wireless carriers do incur costs to unlock a device, and the wait period before unlocking subsidized devices is required to detect both fraud and non-payment by customers. Customers purchasing their device outright, or bringing their own device, can request to have their device unlocked at any time.”
Fee: $50, or $150 for phones under contract and subject to credit conditions like a credit limit or credit deposit. Former Virgin Mobile members $75 + applicable taxes.
Comment: “In an effort to help consumers make informed decisions about all aspects of their wireless service before hooking up, Virgin Mobile discloses its unlocking fee to Members when they’re signing up. This is also a requirement in the Wireless Code that impacts all wireless service providers. There is a cost incurred by the wireless carriers to unlock a device, as well as a required wait period before unlocking subsidized devices to detect both fraud and non-payment. However, Members who purchase their phone outright, or bringing their own, can request to get their phone unlocked at any time.”
Guidelines: Can be requested in-store, by phone, via email or live chat. To unlock your device, your account must be in good standing and active on your Rogers account for at least 90 days or purchased at the no-term price.
Comment (on behalf of Rogers and Fido): “Fraud is a cost ultimately borne by all consumers. A locked device reduces the attractiveness to would-be thieves who need an unlocked phone to sell it on the open market. If a customer chooses to unlock their device, our specially trained customer care representatives will walk them through the process. Our unlocking fee goes towards the cost of managing the database and related administrative processes.”
The company also reports that all phones come to it locked and that a substantial portion of its recorded unlocking charges since 2013 occurred on accounts that are now cancelled with an outstanding unpaid amount.
Guidelines: Your account must be in good standing and must be 90 days past activation on a subsidized agreement or registered on your account if purchased outright with no term. If you purchased your device from a third party, it must have been registered in your account more than 90 days ago.
Comment: Rogers and Fido issued a joint statement, shown above.
Fee: $50 but may vary depending on service agreement.
Guidelines: Device is not flagged as lost or stolen, for a subsidized device with a device balance, it must be active on the Telus network for a minimum of 90 days. For a device purchased outright or without an outstanding Device Balance, no restrictions (the device can be unlocked immediately by paying the applicable fee). For postpaid accounts, the account must be active. For prepaid accounts, there must be a credit balance available to cover the unlocking fee.
Comment: “Telus was the first national wireless carrier to offer unlocking, based on customer input that some wanted the option. Clearly it is a choice Canadians are taking advantage of, which speaks to just how competitive Canada’s wireless market is. Unlocking is just one of dozens of changes we have made since 2009 based on customer input, such as re-writing contracts in plain language and replacing contract cancellation fees with device balances. We offer unlocking at a modest fee, taking into account the costs of providing this very manual service.”
Guidelines: Your account must be active and in good standing with no negative Tab balance and active on the network for at least 90 days. Prepaid phones must have enough credit to pay for the unlocking fee. CDMA phones cannot be unlocked.
Comment: “Freedom Mobile currently charges $30 to unlock phones. We came to that number because there are operational costs — it’s a relatively complicated process and the customer generally has to call our call centre twice when they want to unlock their phone. If phones were unlocked for the entire industry, that operational cost would no longer exist.
For us, it’s a competitive risk to be the only carrier who unlocks phones for free. Without an unlock fee we could become the target of other carriers targeting our customers to switch to them, but we wouldn’t have that same opportunity to attract customers to us. That’s why we feel this needs to be an industry initiative. It creates a level playing field, with customers winning. To us, it seems that industry-wide unlocked phones provide a better solution than having the CRTC regulate the rates and rules for unlocking.
The combination of operational costs and competitive reasons is why we charge the $30 fee. We continue to be, by far, the carrier with the least expensive unlocking fees.”
Fee: $50 fee will appear on your next billing statement.
Guidelines: If you don’t have a Videotron account, you must pay in-store. The phone must have been sold by Videotron
the unlock code applies to mobile phones and mobile Internet devices (where possible).
Your account must be in good standing. If subsidized, it must be active for at least ninety days or if purchased at retail price it must be registered to your account. The device must not have been declared lost or stolen.
Fee: $50, though SaskTel says it will waive the unlocking fee in specific situations, dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Guidelines: The process can be initiated in-store or over the phone, but is different for different phones, check the carrier’s website for additional information.
Comment: “The unlocking fee covers the internal costs incurred to administer and provide the unlock code service. Some of those costs include:
• Development and maintenance of databases to house unlock code data
• Establishment and ongoing maintenance of integration with OEM systems (as required)
• Customer service to process the original unlock request
• Customer support for those customers requiring further assistance to complete the unlock successfully.”
The carrier also notes, on the subject of customers benefiting from an unlocked device: “Customers usage habits and needs will vary from one customer to the next. The importance of an unlocked device and subsequent benefits recognized will also vary. Not every customer desires or has a need to have an unlocked device.”
Guidelines: Current and prior MTS customers are eligible to unlock if their account is in good standing and has no outstanding balance.
Devices that are subsidized must be at least 90 days into their current wireless contract and off contract devices must have no outstanding balance on their current or cancelled account. If no active account exists user must provide device Bill of Sale. Prepaid customers need an account balance of at least $50. Device must not be not listed as lost or stolen.
Comment: The east coast regional carrier pointed MobileSyrup towards its comments made during the Wireless Code Review, which state that it supports comments filed by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) on the Coalition’s proposal regarding (among other things) unlocking devices prior to the end of the 90-day period for subsidized devices.
Those comments, made on the 16th of November, 2016, take an opposing view to much of what is proposed by Freedom and the consumer interest groups advocating for abolishing unlocking fees, stating: “Today’s smartphones can retail for more than $1,000 and device subsidies routinely exceed $500.
Service providers need to protect themselves against fraud and losses when issuing contracts and when unlocking devices. Credit checks, security deposits and requiring accounts to be in good standing before unlocking are some protectionary measures. The Wireless Code should not take such rights away from service providers.”
The next generation of wireless tech is more than just a boost for your phone. Think self-driving cars, telemedicine and VR reaching their true potential.
You can’t walk around Mobile World Congress without 5G slapping you in the face.
If there’s a phenomenon that’s dominated this week’s trade show besides the return of a 17-year-old phone, it’s the reality that the next generation of cellular technology has arrived. Well, at least it’s real in the confines of the Fira Gran Via convention center in Barcelona.
Above the Qualcomm booth flashed the slogan: “5G: From the company that brought you 3G and 4G.” If you took a few more steps, you could hear an Intel representative shout about the benefits of 5G. If you hopped over to Ericsson, you’d find a “5G avenue” with multiple exhibits demonstrating the benefits of the technology. Samsung kicked off its press conference not with its new tablets, but with a chat about 5G.
The hype around 5G has been brewing for more than a year, but we’re finally starting to see the early research and development bear fruit. The technology promises to change our lives by connecting everything around us to a network that is 100 times faster than our cellular connection and 10 times faster than our speediest home broadband service.
But it’s not just about speed for speed’s sake. While the move from 3G to 4G LTE was about faster connections, the evolution to 5G is so much more. The combination of speed, responsiveness and reach could unlock the full capabilities of other hot trends in technology, offering a boost to self-driving cars, drones, virtual reality and the internet of things.
“If you just think of speed, you don’t see the magic of all it can do,” said Jefferson Wang, who follows the mobile industry for IBB Consulting.
The bad news: 5G is still a while away for consumers, and the industry is still fighting over the nitty-gritty details of the technology itself. The good news: There’s a chance it’s coming sooner than we thought.
It’s clear why the wireless carriers are eager to move to 5G. With the core phone business slowing down, companies are eager for new tech to spark excitement and connect more devices.
“We are absolutely convinced that 5G is the next revolution,” Tim Baxter, president of Samsung’s US unit, said during a press conference Sunday.
Here’s just a taste of what 5G will be able to unlock.
Beyond speed, the biggest benefit of 5G is its low latency, or the short lag time between a device pinging the network and getting a response. While not necessarily noticeable, there is a lag with 4G LTE. A 5G network virtually eliminates it, meaning a surgeon may not need to be in the same room as a patient in the future.
Ericsson, working with startup NeuroDigital Technologies and doctors at King’s College London, used a dummy patient to demonstrate how a surgeon could use a VR headset and special glove to control a robot arm that would perform an actual operation in another location.
The glove was fitted with haptic feedback motors that buzzed when you touched the dummy’s organ, giving you the sensation that you were actually touching it.
Companies are calling this idea the “internet of skills” that would enable you to transfer your expertise over a great distance in real time using robotics and haptic feedback.
Without the real-time 5G connection, the whole setup would be impossible.
A touchy-feely internet
The surgery feedback is just one example of how touch will play into the 5G network. With haptic feedback, you’ll be able to transmit the tactile sensation of experience, enhancing the sights and sounds of a video experience.
Another Ericsson simulation put you in the driver’s seat of a car 50 kilometers away from the Fira. Thanks to the feedback system built into the chair, you could feel yourself going over speed bumps and crashing into cones — which I did at an alarming rate.
“In order to touch and feel things miles away, you need low latency,” Sprint Chief Technology Officer John Saw said in an interview Monday. That will have applications in the industrial area, including having humans overseeing robotic assembly.
It’s the first time the network will be faster than your mind, Ericsson Chief Technology Officer Ulf Ewaldson said in an interview Wednesday.
While companies like Google and Uber are investing in self-driving cars now, many in the industry don’t believe a fully autonomous vehicle is possible without a 5G network.
That instantly responsive network and ubiquitous coverage means the cars will be able to use 5G to talk to other cars and sensors built around the city, from street lamps to gas stations.
“It not just about the cars,” Adam Koeppe, vice president of network planning for Verizon, said in an interview Monday. “It’s about urban design and technology.”
Similarly, 5G will unlock the true capability of drones. Lynn Comp, director of market development at Intel, cited the example of a drone flying over an oil drill with a video camera. The network will allow for precise control of the drone, while sending back high-definition video.
VR was a huge trend at last year’s Mobile World Congress. But the technology took a back seat this year with little new hardware other than an update from Samsung.
Meanwhile, virtual reality is in the hands of filmmakers, and it seems more happened at the recent Sundance Film Festival than at MWC.
Samsung’s Gear VR gets a controller
If there was any VR at Mobile World Congress, much of it was part of a demonstration of how 5G could enhance the experience, allowing you to chat in real time with live-streaming virtual worlds.
Sprint Chief Operating Officer Gunther Ottendorfer said he expects to see a return of game arcades — but focused on virtual reality.
Do you want to make sure you always have a dependable connection? 5G might be able to help with that. Phone companies already offer “service-level agreements” that guarantee a connection for mission-critical businesses and applications.
With 5G, the networks will be smart enough to offer those guarantees to individuals. Of course, don’t expect it to be cheap.
The most obvious application of 5G is as a replacement for traditional home internet service. And it’s coming really soon, with Verizon and AT&T already investing in trials in the US.
Of course, phones will eventually get the 5G treatment. Roger Gurnani, chief information and technology architect for Verizon, teased coming back to Barcelona next year with a 5G phone.
That may prove overly ambitious, but Gurnani and the rest of the industry know there’s a lot of work ahead and high customer expectations to fill. In the end, that’s their priority.
“It’s not about the Gs,” John Stankey, head of AT&T’s entertainment business, said in a keynote Monday. “It’s not about 5G or 5 gigs. It’s going to be about more.”
They might not be pigs, but AT&T has made COWs fly.
Seven months after the carrier first announced plans to do so, AT&T on Wednesday said it successfully built and tested a Flying cell-on-wheels, or COW, that can be used to beam LTE coverage where it’s needed during disasters or large events.
AT&T said its Flying COW was made up of a drone carrying a small cell and antennas that was connected to the ground by a thin tether. That tether was used to provide a secure fiber data connection as well as power to the drone for unlimited flight time. The Flying COW uses a satellite connection to carry texts, calls, and data for users in a select area on the ground below.
Here it is in action:
Unlike traditional ground-based COWs, AT&T indicated flying equipment can be easier to deploy in certain circumstances due to its reduced size. The setup flies at altitudes of more than 300 feet – or about 500 percent higher than a traditional COW mast – and has the potential to provide coverage to an area of about 40 square miles. Multiple Flying COWs could be deployed to expand that footprint, the carrier said.
“We see the Flying COW playing an important role within our Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) team. We can transport, deploy, and move it quickly to accommodate rapidly changing conditions during an emergency,” AT&T Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program Director Art Pregler wrote in a blog post. “For example, at the direction of first responders, it could follow firefighters battling a quickly moving wildfire line—keeping them connected while they fight blazes. The Flying COW is tough. It can fly and provide coverage in bad weather—from high winds to heavy smoke.”
“We’ll also look to use Flying COWs to enhance coverage at big events like music festivals,” Pregler continued. “Used in conjunction with traditional COWs, the Flying COW may allow us to extend coverage to the outlying areas of the festival grounds.”
The use of drones to provide cell coverage is AT&T’s latest employment of unmanned aerial vehicle technology. The carrier has previously announced its work with drones to inspect cell sites and measure network strength in venues. AT&T last year also teamed up with NASA to develop a drone traffic management system.
Ericsson this week said it hit another milestone on the road to 5G with the launch of a combined core and radio platform for 5G use cases.
According to the company, the new 5G platform includes the core, radio and transport portfolios, together with digital support systems, transformation services, and security. Ericsson’s head of Business Unit Network Products Arun Bansal said in a Wednesday launch webcast the company believes it is the first to offer a complete 5G platform.
“With this we are the first with combined 5G radio and core and we have the market’s first 5G access and transit portfolio,” Bansal said.
Ericsson’s platform includes the 5G Core System, which can support 5G use cases using network slicing. The core system and applications now also include capabilities like federated network slices for global network slices, network slice management to automate service connections and quality, 5G policy and user data for network slices, distributed cloud for short latency applications, and 5G transformation services to ensure successful migration of the network and operation from the legacy to 5G core. Ericsson pointed out it has already successfully tested – in collaboration with Deutsche Telekom, and SK Telecom – an intercontinental 5G trial network where network slices were made available in the other operator’s footprint.
On the radio and transport front, Ericsson noted the addition of mid-band and high-band 5G New Radio (NR) radios to the 5G NR Radio it launched last year. The company said the 5G radio portfolio will be the first to support the new standardized 5G fronthaul interface (called eCPRI).
Ericsson said trials with 28 different operators are already underway, and indicated it expects an uptick in 5G field tests this year.
On Thursday, the company announced it implemented the first end-to-end 5G trial system with Korea’s SK Telecom back in December in Ericsson’s lab in Kista, Sweden. The trial used Ericsson’s Cloud Core, virtual RAN, and over-the-air NR/LTE interworking. A similar demonstration involving Cloud RAN was also made in collaboration with Telefonica the same month, the company said.
Ericsson will be showcasing and discussing 5G; platforms and services for IT, Cloud, Networks, and TV and Media; connected solutions for industries; and the Internet of Things at its booth in Hall 2 at Mobile World Congress later this month.
Google has unveiled Android Wear 2.0. The company has also announced the first two new smartwatches to run on the software update, the LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style.
Google says Android 2.0 offers “more informative watch faces, better workouts, new ways to use apps, more ways to stay in touch and on-the-go help from the Google Assistant.”
As an Apple Watch owner, one of the new Android 2.0 features that caught my eye is the new on-watch Google Play Store, which allows you to download apps directly from the watch face. The addition of Google Assistant also shows promise.
From a design perspective, both the LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style feature circular OLED displays compared to the Apple Watch’s rectangular design. Also worth noting: the LG screens are slightly different in size. The LG Watch Sport measures 1.38 inches, while the LG Watch Style is 1.20 inches.
As an Apple Watch owner, one of the new Android 2.0 features that caught my eye is the new on-watch Google Play Store, which allows you to download apps directly from the watch face.
The LG Watch Sport is described as Android Wear’s “most powerful watch yet.” It comes in titanium and dark blue with an elastomer strap. The Sport offers cellular connectivity, GPS, and NFC.
The LG Watch Style launches in three designs and finishes—silver, rose gold and titanium. Each offers compatibility with snap-and-swap 18mm leather and silicone bands. LG Watch Style is not available with cellular capabilities.
The new smartwatches arrive in the United States beginning Monday, Feb. 10. The LG Watch Style will be available at Best Buy and the Google Store while the LG Watch Sport will launch at AT&T, Verizon, and the Google Store.
These watches will be available at carriers and retailers across Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom in the coming weeks.
Current watches getting Android Wear 2.0 include: ASUS ZenWatch 2 & 3, Casio Smart Outdoor Watch, Casio PRO TREK Smart, Fossil Q Founder, Fossil Q Marshal, Fossil Q Wander, Huawei Watch, LG Watch R, LG Watch Urbane & 2nd Edition LTE, Michael Kors Access Smartwatches, Moto 360 2nd Gen, Moto 360 for Women, Moto 360 Sport, New Balance RunIQ, Nixon Mission, Polar M600, and TAG Heuer Connected.
Rogers postpaid subscribers paid an average of 5.6 percent more on their monthly bills in 2016.
The average bill for a postpaid Rogers subscriber at the end of 2015 was $110.74 CAD, which had increased to $117.37 by the end of the following year. In addition, Rogers’ average postpaid subscriber bill in the final quarter of 2016 is $119.90, versus an average rate of $112.07 in the final quarter of 2015, which represents a quarterly increase of 6.5 percent.
Customers paying more for wireless bills
This coincides with a six percent increase in revenue for Rogers’ wireless segment, which reached $7.9 billion out of a total company revenue of $13.7 billion.
The company’s total quarterly revenue was up two percent to $3.5 billion and adjusted quarterly earnings reached $1.2 billion. Adjusted operating profit increased just one percent to $5.1 billion.
Also notable in this report is the $9 million loss incurred by the company this quarter. Rogers attributes the loss to a $484 million charge taken on on for discontinuing their investment in its internet protocol television (IPTV) product.
As a result, the company also recorded an annual net income of $835 million, which represents a loss of 38 percent. The company also lost $0.02 per share this quarter as opposed to earning $0.58 per share as they did in the quarter prior.
Wireless soars as other segments see little change
On the wireless side, things are looking steady. Rogers Wireless also experienced an incremental increase of three percent in overall revenue, taking the total from $7.6 billion at the end of 2015 to $7.9 billion at the end of 2016. The company’s revenue increased by four percent to $2.1 billion.
Service revenue increased substantially by six percent compared to the same quarter last year and five percent year over year, which likely contributed to the bill increases experienced by Rogers wireless customers last year.
Despite this, however, the company’s equipment sales decreased by 15 percent sequentially and 12 percent year over year. Rogers credits this decrease to an 11 percent decrease upgrades, larger average subsidies given to consumers who purchased devices and higher postpaid gross additions.
This coincides with a six percent increase in revenue for Rogers’ wireless segment
Rogers added 436,000 postpaid subscribers during the final quarter of 2016 as opposed to 356,000 in the same quarter last year. Net increase amounts to 93,000 additions as opposed to 31,000 at this time last year.
Annually, Rogers added 1.4 million new post-paid subscribers to its wireless service in comparison to 1.3 million year by the end of 2015. Again, net additions wound up amounting to 286,000 new additions over 2016 as opposed to 106,000 over 2015.
Its prepaid subscriber rate experienced a less significant bump as the company added 38,000 subscribers to its roster last quarter, as opposed to 27,000 during the 2015 fourth quarter. In addition, Rogers’ cable segment experienced an increase of 30,000 subscribers to its internet products, contributing to over 2.1 million internet products subscribers.
Total Rogers’ wireless subscribers, including Fido and the now-shuttered Mobilicity, is 10,274,000.
The telecom giant forecasts an increase in revenue during 2017 of between three and five percent.