Wireless carriers can't keep up with demand after weekend price cutting

Canada's major wireless carriers are apologizing for long customer service wait times as consumers scramble to cash in on limited-time promotional offers.

Wait times of 2 to 3 hours reported as companies offer cheaper data deals as low as 10GB for $60 a month

While the holiday season is always competitive for the telecom companies, a low-rate plan offered by Shaw's Freedom Mobile and a recent update of Canada's code of conduct for wireless carriers are among the drivers spurring a flurry of special promotions this year. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Canada's major wireless carriers are apologizing for long customer service wait times as consumers scramble to cash in on limited-time promotional offers.

While the holiday season is always competitive for the telecom companies, a low-rate plan offered by Shaw's Freedom Mobile and a recent update of Canada's code of conduct for wireless carriers are among the drivers spurring a flurry of special promotions this year.

"This doesn't happen every year," independent technology analyst Carmi Levi said from his base in London, Ont., of the new Wireless Code that came into effect on Dec. 1.

One of the major changes prevents carriers from charging to unlock phones so they can work on another network, making it much easier to switch to a rival.

"We're seeing evidence here that Canada's wireless market can be very competitive," Levi said.

"So I would expect this to continue as consumers continue to look for every opportunity available to them to save money and get more in the process."

Starting late last week and into the weekend, Rogers, Bell and Telus — as well as their respective secondary brands Fido, Virgin and Koodo — started advertising 10 gigabytes of data for $60 per month, with certain conditions.

Freedom's promotions in the Toronto area had begun to gain traction — prompting Rogers, Telus and Bell to respond, Aravinda Galappatthige, a telecom analyst with Canaccord Genuity, said in a research note Monday.

"We saw a little bit of this in late 2016 when Fido (Rogers) and Public Mobile (Telus) temporarily matched Freedom with $40/4GB offerings," Galappatthige wrote.

The promotional offers were set to expire within a few days, putting pressure on consumers to respond quickly or face missing the bargain.

Numerous Facebook, Twitter and chat room commenters reported two- to three-hour wait times for call centres and online chats — sparking social media complaints and calls to extend the deadline.

Rogers issued a media statement that said, in most cases, the weekend promotional offer would expire for new customers on Monday but would be honoured for existing customers until Tuesday. The exception, it said, would be a Fido bring-your-own-phone offer that would go until end of day Tuesday in Ontario.

A statement from Telus on Monday afternoon said the company expected the promotion would be popular "but demand far exceeded our expectations" on one of the busiest weekends of the year.

"We are very sorry for the longer wait times that customers experienced over the weekend and are grateful for their patience," the email statement said. "We are continuing to make real-time adjustments to minimize wait times before these great offers expire at the end of the day tomorrow."

Julia Le, a long-time Telus customer, said she eventually was able to switch from a plan costing $55 per month with 500 megabytes of data to a new plan with 10 gigabytes per month (20 times as much) for an extra $5 per month.

But the experience was "frustrating" because of the difficulty in getting through to Telus customer service over the span of about six hours on Sunday, Le said.

Le said it's understandable that there will be customer delays during big promotions, but wondered why Telus was so much slower than Rogers, who served her husband after a relatively short 1 hour 15 minutes waiting on the phone.

She had considered giving up and trying Rogers, which her husband uses, but learned from a friend that the offers might expire sooner than anticipated.

"It was around dinner time, so I decided to give it one last call … and within six minutes, I got through. Miraculously!"