Americans May Ditch Wi-Fi For Unlimited Data. Your Move, Canada

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Unlimited data has made a sudden comeback to U.S. wireless plans, and the result could be the demise of public Wi-Fi, experts predict.

But that isn’t happening just yet in Canada — and experts are divided on whether it will happen here at all.

After instituting data caps some six years ago, all four of the U.S.’s major wireless players — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — announced the return of unlimited data in recent months, with pricing ranging from US$50 to US$90 a month.

smartphone cafe
Wi-Fi access may disappear from public places now that all of the U.S. wireless providers are offering unlimited data, some market experts say. (Photo: PeopleImages via Getty Images)

The result is that “you could see a big switch” away from Wi-Fi, Tim Farrar, founder of Telecom Media Finance Associates, told Bloomberg. “Your coffee shops may be less compelled to provide Wi-Fi for you now.”

That’s a behavioural change among consumers that Canada’s telecoms aren’t yet moving towards.

"It's such a hyper-competitive environment in the U.S.," tech blogger Rose Behar told the CBC. In Canada, however, “data overage charges have undoubtedly been a large source of revenue."

None of Canada’s major wireless providers currently offer unlimited data, and, according to the CBC's research, only one regional one does — MTS in Manitoba, which was recently bought by Bell. Freedom Mobile, formerly Wind Mobile, offers a plan that allows users to use free data past their cap, but at reduced speed. Rogers' flanker brand, Chatr, offers the same thing in certain cities and regions.

freedom mobile
A woman walks past a new sign at a Freedom Mobile location in Toronto on Thursday, November 24, 2016. The wireless provider was known as Wind Mobile until it was bought by Shaw and rebranded. (Photo: Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

Tech blogger Peter Nowak argues that the presence of smaller but aggressive wireless providers in the U.S. market, namely Sprint and T-Mobile, is creating a more competitive environment south of the border.

These smaller players resell space on their networks to mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) such as Google Fi, creating even more competition.

“That dynamic doesn’t exist in Canada. End of story,” Nowak wrote earlier this month.

But others say unlimited data could one day come to Canada. One of the big three — Bell, Rogers or Telus — “is going to say 'OK, we'll get ahead of this and we'll launch it,’” Behar predicted.

But she warns pricing on those unlimited plans is likely to be higher than in the U.S.

"I think that when it happens, it's not going to be all we dreamed of."

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