This month I switched to Shaw Mobile for my personal cell phone plan service. I learned a few things along the way, and figured it would be good to share the process for anyone else who is curious.
In Canada we don’t have a lot of cell phone provider competition. Many of the providers are actually sub-companies of the “big 3” (Rogers, Telus and Bell).
For the longest time I was with Fido, which is owned by Rogers. At first I bought the phone from the provider, and paid it off through the locked-in plan. Eventually I bought my own phone (refurbished from Best Buy or OpenBox) went to a month-to-month plan, and wanted to minimize my cost. I switched to a 100MB/month (you read that right: 100 megabytes) plan, and was very successful with staying under that limit. It was $35 CAD a month (plus taxes).
In September 2019 I thought it was silly to be paying that much for 100MB/month, so I switched to Chatr Wireless. Chatr is also owned by Rogers. Their cheapest plan was 1GB/month (3G speed), and was the same price as my previous Fido plan. Same cost, just more data headroom so I could be more relaxed about the limit. It turns out that if I would have exceeded that amount (I never did) it would just be slower until the next month.
Overall Chatr was a good provider, despite regular text messages and calls from their stores trying to upsell me to more expensive plans, or even to Fido plans.
New player: Shaw Mobile
In 2020 Shaw announced Shaw Mobile, which featured a $0/month plan if you buy roll-over data as you need it. I am a Shaw home internet customer, somewhat reluctantly. Like the cell phone industry, there is not much competition in Canada, and especially in older buildings in Vancouver. Shaw Mobile has special pricing (a $15/month discount) if you are already a Shaw internet customer. So I decided to give it a try.
The roll-over data expires after 90 days, which seems arbitrary and I would prefer it to never expire. I could stretch 1GB much longer than that. In the end my my cell phone costs should be going from ~$40 CAD/month to ~$40 CAD/year (minimum, if I don’t need more than 1GB per 90 days).
In order to switch plans, I needed a new SIM card from Shaw, which they made easy to order. It was completely free, shipping included. In order to keep my phone number (which was referred to as “porting my number”) I needed to get my account number from Chatr. This number is not available in the Chatr web portal, nor their app – it’s a special number that you have to call their support to retrieve. Even though they ask you why you want it before giving it to you, I had no trouble actually getting the number. After receiving it, I was called three times from Chatr over a 45 minute period.
Once I had the SIM card and my account number, I started a Shaw Mobile live chat with one of their support staff via their website. They walked me through identifying myself, providing the account number, the SIM card number, and eventually switching the SIM card in my phone. Before switching my SIM card I had to wait for a text from Chatr to approve my number to be switched to another provider.
After everything was done, I had Shaw Mobile LTE on my phone. I was assigned a temporary 236 number until a few hours later when my number porting was complete. A text message came in to let me know that I was now using my previous phone number.
SIM/number porting issue on iOS
I also ran into a strange situation on iOS where it was counting down days until I couldn’t use my old number with iMessage anymore – something about my Apple account being set up with that number, but not my phone. I tried restarting my phone but it made no difference. Eventually I took out the SIM card, shut down my phone, booted it up again, inserted the SIM card, and shut down and booted my phone once more. The message went away and everything is working fine now.
Unfortunately Shaw Mobile accounts are accessed via a 4-digit PIN and so far it seems to always prompt a 2-factor auth via SMS, so it is vulnerable to SMS Swap attacks, among other issues.
After 5 days on the service I’ve used 4% of my 1GB allotment (you can check it in the Shaw Mobile web portal). So far it’s working well.