The Canadian mobile phone service you can't get here

The CBC's Aaron Saltzman has the story of Ting, the Canadian mobile phone company that isn't available in Canada. Instead, it operates in the United States.

Ting buys network access in the U.S. and sells it on to its subscribers

Cell service not for us

10 years ago
Duration 2:22
The Toronto-based wireless service provider Ting could save you a lot of money, if only it were available in Canada

A Canadian wireless provider is making a name for itself with a mix-and-match approach that charges cellphone customers only for what they use, but there's a catch for Canadians hoping for a deal — the company based in Toronto isn't able to operate in this country.

Ting doesn't have contracts and uses a month-to-month system that is winning over smartphone users in the U.S., CBC's Aaron Saltzman reports.

Customers "save significantly," says company CEO Elliot Noss. "Think in the 50, 60, 70 per cent range on their cellphone bill."

The company doesn't have its own cell network. Instead, it buys network access from other companies at a wholesale price and then sells that access to people who sign up with the company.

In the U.S., Ting buys access to Sprint's mobile network. Canadian providers Bell, Rogers and Telus have declined to participate, the company says.

"We would love to be in Canada," said Ting CEO Elliott Noss. "Nobody will — at least at this juncture — sell us network."

In the U.S., Ting buys access to Sprint's mobile network. Ting doesn't have access to Canadian networks yet, but the company says it would like to operate here. (Matt Sayles/Associated Press)

The lack of access to the big three networks limits competition in the wireless industry, says Steve Anderson of Open Media.

"The big three cellphone companies control access to the digital roads that independent service providers require to reach Canadians," Anderson said. "And they're preventing them from accessing those roads so they can keep prices high and under-invest in customer service."

New government rules will force the big three to sell access to a new national carrier, but smaller operators still face barriers and at least one analyst said customers shouldn't expect changes on cellphone bills any time soon.

"We're looking at probably years before you can actually buy services from any new players or see any significant differences in terms of pricing or services availability," technology analyst Carmi Levy said.

There have been reports that big U.S. carrier Verizon wants to enter the Canadian wireless market by purchasing small carrier Wind Mobile and was in talks to buy struggling company Mobilicity.

Foreign ownership restrictions for small wireless companies with less than 10 per cent of the wireless market have been loosened, which paves the way for Verizon and other foreign competitors to enter the cellphone market and buy up these players.

But Rogers,Telus and Bell have been complaining that they want a level playing field and should not be prevented from buying up these companies because of the rules. Telus had recently been blocked by the government from acquiring Mobilicity.

On Wednesday, newly appointed Industry Minister James Moore released a statement saying "protecting consumers and increasing competition in the wireless market" is a priority for Canadians and the Conservative government.

"We want all regions of Canada to benefit from competitive market forces, which is why more progress must be made," Moore said in a statement. "We will continue to stay the course by ensuring Canadians benefit from a competitive telecommunications industry."

With files from CBC's Aaron Saltzman and The Canadian Press