Bell Canada is planning to offer a touch-screen mobile phone with the option of an unlimited data plan, upping the ante in its battle for the Canadian smartphone market.
Bell said Thursday it would offer the Samsung Instinct, which includes many of the features found on Apple Inc.'s iPhone, on Aug. 8. The phone would be available with a range of data and voice plans, including a $10 add-on data plan offering unlimited internet access.
The announcement comes just eight days before Rogers Communications plans to launch the iPhone. Rogers is already taking heat from potential customers over data rate plans it announced for the iPhone. In the last week more than 30,000 people signed an online petition at ruinediphone.com, with many saying complaining Rogers' prices were "ridiculous" when compared to iPhone plans in other countries.
The basic Rogers monthly plan begins at $60, plus a system access fee of $6.95, and gives subscribers 150 daytime minutes and 400 megabytes of data usage.
By comparison, the lowest Bell plan for the Instinct comes to just under $40 before taxes, including the $10 unlimited data plan. There is also a one-time $35 activation fee.
Unlike the iPhone, the Instinct cannot access the internet through a Wi-Fi connection, but it has many features in common with the iPhone, including a touch-screen interface and HTML web browsing.
Bell spokesperson Jason Laszlo said the unlimited data plan includes web browsing, web-based e-mail and downloads. Other services, including GPS navigation, access to Bell's Full Track Music, Sirius satellite radio and on-demand TV content, are available at additional charges.
As with most mobile phones, media that require software — such as QuickTime or RealPlayer — to be downloaded will also not work on the Instinct.
The Instinct itself costs $149.95 when consumers opt for a three-year contract, $249.95 on a two-year contract or $399.95 on a one-year contract. Without a term contract it can be purchased for $449.95, Bell said.
The phone can also not be used under the Bell plan as a tethered device to offer roaming access for laptops.
Tethering has been controversial
The practice of tethering might have allowed consumers to use the unlimited connection to access a wider range of downloading and viewing options than would normally be available on a mobile phone.
Last year tethering was at the centre of a controversy for Bell Canada after a Calgary man got a bill of nearly $85,000 for using his phone plan to connect to a computer and surf the internet, which drew substantial additional charges. Bell later dropped the amount owing to $3,423.
Telecommunications analyst Mark Goldberg said the announcement is a good sign for consumers.
"I think it's a sign that no carrier is conceding any space to any other carrier."
Goldberg said that while Rogers, through its Rogers and Fido brands, is the only carrier in Canada to offer the iPhone, the other carriers aren't sitting on their hands.
"The iPhone raised the bar for smartphones, but it's not the only option," he said.
He added that while Rogers is the only carrier in the country to run its network using the Global Systems for Mobile (GSM) standard for cell phones — the standard the iPhone uses — that could change as new carriers enter the market next year.
A government auction of wireless airwaves currently winding down set aside some of the spectrum for new entrants. Goldberg said the current auction results suggest most markets will get one or two new carriers next year. Many of these are likely to run on the GSM standard because of its ubiquity.