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March 15, 2013

Wind Mobile

As I read what is below, I came to the conclusion that you might think I'm not very fond of Wind Mobile. Quite the contrary, in fact. I do, however, feel that Wind is one of those companies in which you will be VERY disappointed if you do not take the time to educate yourself about them and their offerings before you dive in. Since Wind no longer has their forum to go to for help, you now have to rely on common sense and yourself. Notice I didn't mention the salespeople. Find out everything you need to know about Wind and it's offerings before you go to the store. When you do go, make sure it is a corporate store (many are simply dealers). To be safe, see Wind's home page then check out "stores and coverage". Go only to stores marked with a wrench (in the listing on the right side). These are corporately owned Warranty Centers and while there may be other corporate stores, this is the only way to be sure. Note that this is not intended to suggest that all independent dealers represent a bad or even potentially bad experience. But practice has shown that after sales support from Wind is much easier to get if they cannot direct you back to an independent dealer. And to be fair, some of the independent dealers may even treat you better than Wind itself (but that's not a gamble I recommend).

For those of you who may not be aware, WindMobile (Wind) is a mobile phone company serving Toronto and area as well as some of the other larger markets in Canada.

I used to be a Fido customer. I started with them back when Fido was owned by Microcell (when their network was new and their prices were incredible). Back then, customer service was excellent and prices were superb. To be fair though, the network was new and cell service could be spotty (but had improved considerably by the time Rogers bought them out).

For those of you who are not aware, prior to the arrival of Wind, Toronto's cell service was provided exclusively by 3 companies (referred to as the big three or Robelus). That is, Rogers, Bell and Telus. Virtually all of the other cell providers were (or are) subsidiaries of (or underwritten by) those three providers. Then along comes Wind (and to a lesser degree Mobilicity and Public Mobile) to provide the first real competition in years.

Wind started with the idea that they would ask customers what they wanted and build a business model that could deliver on it (within reason). So needless to say, in the starting days customer service at Wind was superb (well, unless you called in the last three or first three days of the month). Wind did a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong. Primarily they paid too much attention to the "wants" of their potential customers and spent a lot of time chasing their tails. Eventually things settled in and they are basically just like the big three now.

So if they're just like the big three, why should you use them? For the same reason you make most of your purchases . . . Price. Wind now offers a very stable cell experience for a fraction of the cost of the big three. Even the big three's discount brands don't attempt to match Wind on a dollar for service basis.

Now there are some things to keep in mind when considering switching to Wind (or Mobilicity or Public Mobile). You will almost certainly have to buy a new phone. Oh and the single most popular phone on Earth does not work with any of them. That's right... NO iPhone. (UPDATE ... As of Friday April 12, 2013 T-Mobile in the U.S. began selling AWS compatible iPhones. Apparently the iPhone 5 model A1428 GSM version supports the AWS band used by Wind Mobile (although existing handsets do not have the firmware to allow it). So it is now possible to purchase an iPhone 5 for use on Wind Mobile. ... End UPDATE) Almost none of the phones that you would have purchased for use on the big three carriers will work on Wind (a few exceptions do exist). Unless you're tech savvy, I strongly recommend that you purchase your phone from the carrier. If you're "slightly" tech savvy, you might consider buying a Google Nexus 4 device (directly from Google preferably) which will have the benefit of working with any of the carriers in the Toronto market (except Public Mobile) so if you later decide to go back to your original carrier (or try another one) you can take your new Nexus 4 with you.
Keep in mind that the big three have been here for a VERY long time and have established networks. Wind has built it's entire network from scratch in the past few years and is therefore likely to have more holes in their network. Also keep in mind that they are a new company and things are constantly changing (this company has had more complete policy reversals than I would ever have thought possible for one entity).

And while this is not the appropriate place in this essay for this comment.. Wind's mantra is something like. . .

"At Wind we took the asterisk out of Unlimited"

DO NOT BELIEVE THIS. They did remove the asterisk, but they did not remove the limits or conditions.

Unlimited does NOT mean unlimited when it comes to data. You will have a 5 GB soft cap after which your data speeds will be slowed to an almost unusable crawl. For $10 more per month (or with certain plans) you can increase that ceiling to 10 GB before they slow you down. Look for the "fair usage policy" for clarification.

And while you have no limit on the number of minutes you can talk per month (on unlimited plans) you do have a 120 minute (2 hour) cap on any single conversation. Your call will be severed after 2 hours (but you are free to call back and resume your conversation). Keep this in mind if your are calling somewhere that they are likely to put you on hold for an extended period of time (as I used to joke "like Wind's customer Service" - but that hasn't been an issue recently).

While I'm on the topic of customer service, it should be noted that I do my absolute best to avoid calling customer service, but for the sake of disclosure I will provide my experiences. When Wind first opened, customer service was super pleasant and would bent over backwards to please customers (sometimes too much so). But back then everyone had the same renewal date and the phone lines got clogged well beyond capacity in the last few and first few days of each month as people tried to pay their bills. Since then the super pleasant attitude is completely gone. Often times, the person on the other end of the phone seemed like they knew less about my service than I did. The last time I called (quite some time ago now) I was greeted with the cookie cutter tech support so common in this day and age. Customer service was clearly being done "by the book" by a call center overseas. One experience has the person on the other end understanding my words, but having no clue as to what I was trying to communicate which resulted in my having to call again and get someone who could actually understand me. Rumours abounded at that time that Wind was opening a Canadian call center, but I have no idea if that happened (and with a recent shift in control, I suspect it either never happened or will be phased out quickly if it did).

Phone Subsidies. Wind is the only one of the new entrants to subsidize handsets. They do this by means of a tab system they call WindTab. I have a whole blog entry on the Windtab so I won't go into it here.

Cell service. This really depends on where you plan to use the phone. I wish I meant something as general as "the city" but I really do mean "precisely" where. While the service is excellent in virtually the entire area they claim to cover, there are always spots where it either doesn't work well or doesn't work at all. If you spend time in those areas then this would be a major problem. The only way to know for sure is to try a Wind phone in the areas you plan to be and if things aren't perfect when you try then don't use Wind. To get a general idea where some known weak spots are have a look at which is built from real-time results from actual Wind cell phones. As an example, I tend to lose signal on the 404 on my way to my daughter's house in Aurora for about 4 kilometers, and in my daughter's house I get weak service at the front of the house and no service in the back yard (although her house is clearly in Wind's "home zone".

I have had service with Fido and Rogers and my immediate family members have used Bell, Telus and Mobilicity. I have had issues with all of the providers. So for me it now comes down to 2 questions. Do they provide service in the areas I use and how much money will it cost me. Currently Wind Mobile provides the most desirable fit for those two criteria (for me - your mileage may vary).

My son pays double what I do for a lot less service with Virgin Mobile (but to be fair he has a subsidized iPhone). My wife pays about 30% more than I do on Fido (with a plan which has not been available since Rogers bought it). One of my daughters pays considerably more with Rogers and another switched from Mobilicity to Wind about a year ago (her issue was signal quality in her dwelling). So we know my son (who has to have the latest and greatest) is on Virgin for the iPhone, but why is my wife with Fido? That is very simple. My wife is using the same Fido account that was originally opened for me when Fido first came to Toronto (owned by Microcell). She's been using it for years, has a good plan (an old grandfathered plan with a retention bonus), trusts Rogers' coverage and uses only simple phones (with no data and almost no texting). She doesn't like change.

So, no, Wind isn't for everyone. There are some very legitimate reasons to stick with the big three or to go with the other new entrants. If you literally never go near the edges of the city and don't need the latest and greatest handsets (or can afford to buy them outright) you might well consider Public Mobile or Mobilicity (but for the fact that I do work on the edges of, and sometimes outside of their coverage, I might have gone with one of them).

As a little side tale, I spent a great deal of effort relaying to my brother in law the weaknesses of Wind and the potential problems with switching because I did not want him blaming me after he switched if things didn't go his way. In spite of my highlighting the potential problems, he did change his service. He later admonished me for always pointing out the potential problems. He has been extremely happy with the service (but was aware of the limitations prior to signing up) and his only complaint is that his phone loses it's signal when he's in the back of the warehouse at his office (which he rectified by using a bluetooth and leaving the phone itself at the front of the warehouse)