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A Wasteland Of Sorts

While shopping for a new cellphone, it has come to my attention once again that I am living far outside the bounds of modern civilization.

Do you know what it cost to get data out of the interweb and into a cellphone here in Canada? Four cents per kilobyte. Which is to say, forty dollars a megabyte, or approximately two hundred dollars for a moderately-sized MP3.

Two hundred fucking dollars.

That’s your base rate, if you don’t have a data plan. Data plans start at $25 for half a megabyte, with additional megabytes costing thirty dollars each. And all of that is only available in addition to your normal voice plan.

Which is to say, if you download about one mp3 every month, it’s actually cheaper to get an American data plan and pay the roaming fees. Not just a little cheaper, either; vastly cheaper. Rogers claims that 1 megabyte is “approximately 500 to 1,000 e-mails per month”, which I think we sane people can all agree is both a lie on its face and disingenuously overlooks the fact that it is also “one largish picture”, “half a moderately-sized PDF”, “a fifth of a song”, “a thirtieth of a small movie trailer” and “one half of one percent of a large movie trailer.

And, if you want to upload that memory stick full of photos you just finished shooting? Backing up your 256mb CF card over this system will cost you about eight thousand dollars.

Did I mention that there’s no such thing as an unlimited data plan, here?

What I want, what I’ve wanted for a long time, is laptop to cell via bluetooth, cellphone to world via whatever juju puts bits through cellphones, and to be able to check my mail and browse the web a bit without fearing for my wallet if a friend sends me an mp3 as an attachment or I suddenly get the urge to watch a movie trailer; I’m not talking about leaving my bittorrent client running overnight, I’m talking about a terminal and a web browser. And, if I was virtually anywhere else in the world I could do that trivially, for something in the ballpark of forty dollars a month.

But not here. Because here, it’s a “business” thing, which I’m pretty sure means some asshole in a suit has decided that the only people who’d be interested in that sort of thing are other assholes in suits.

If you, dearest audience, happen to be living in one of these digital utopias, perhaps one of my friends withing spitting distance of Akihabara, rest assured that I both don’t want to hear it, and also want you to send me a new cellphone. So, you know, don’t think I love you any less, but seriously, just shut up. And also send me new toys. Also seriously.

On the other hand, if you’re one of the people who actually makes decisions about which services actually get sold in this country, I’m going to need you to take a good hard look at the uptake of these services, which I’d confidently wager is as close to zero as makes no difference, and change your minds. You are clearly in the wrong.

11 Comments | Skip to comment form

  1. colin

    Yep. The cold northern winds blow pretty hard up here. The data plans available to us are horrible… I can’t even begin to (properly) articulate my rage on this topic.

    I will say though that the first time I accessed the net via laptop -> cellphone using bluetooth I was all like, “this is so awesome”… then the ultra crap connection speed brought me back to earth.

  2. Jim Millen

    Goodness. I though mobile data rates were scandalous here in the UK, but it looks like you actually have it worse.

    If we were still in the age of slow dial-up internet access at home, these sort of fees might make more sense, but how the hell do they expect people who’ve got used to unlimited high-speed access at home to pay so highly? Pretty limited imagination, to say the least. Reckon the first company to offer a truly economical unlimited plan will make a killing…

  3. Anonymous

    3 is sort of kind of offering data plans, but it’s still not quite “reasonable”. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/09/12/three_web/

    There aren’t any mobile operators will not allow reasonably-priced unfettered internet access anywhere in the world. Not a single one. It’s going to be many years before that kind of thing becomes ubiquitous enough that one of the Canadian trigopoly operators goes for it.

    If you want to do these kinds of things, your next phone purchase will have to be dual-mode (i.e. it has to have Wifi).

    People really hope that WiFi will at least encourage operators to maybe possibly let them have just a little bit of data. The technology has existed for about 10 years now – but as soon as you give people data, they use it to make phone calls, and suddenly you’re just a mobile-data-operator making $50/month, instead of insane prices for the most trivial of service (voicemail for $10/month? puh-lease)

  4. Mike Hoye

    Cingular offers US$20 unlimited data plans for smartphones, US$45 for laptops, though I’d be surprised to find out they could tell the difference. The Japanese can watch television in the freaking subway on their cellphones-slash-choking-hazards, and if my reading of DoCoMo’s web site is right, yeah, they’ve also got unlimited data plans for 3900 yen, or about $40 Canadian.

  5. Quotation

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=9719827901

    These things come up on eBay every so often, though I’m sure don’t help with your rage.

    Rogers claims that 1 megabyte is “approximately 500 to 1,000 e-mails per month”

    This is targetted at their main clientbase, which is crackberry users. When an Exchange server receives an email and “reformats” it through Crackberry Enterprise software and redirects to the phone, they’re right — the mails are really that small.

    The problem here is that they want to get as much corporate money as they can out of the crackberry users, and aren’t charging reasonable rates for bluetooth/laptop users.

    Laptop users are encouraged by Rogers to instead consider signing up for http://www.shoprogers.com/Store/Cable/InternetContent/portable.asp — which isn’t all that bad until you see how much the “modem” weighs. The kicker is that this beast actually uses the cell towers to parlay.

    Fido used to offer unlimited data for $20/mo if you bought a sidekick from them — then just pop the SIM over and you’re set — but they don’t carry the hiptop anymore.

    The best deal right now is from Fido: 200MB/mo for $100/mo, additional data at $5/MB. But that’s still crazy. You’re better off wardriving (on Viva buses, of course).

  6. Quotation

    Telus and Bell both offer 250MB-$100/mo+$3/MB plans for EVDO cards, but that’s not el GSMo.

  7. Nick

    As for things here in Japan, internet/keitai interaction is really expensive as well. I’m not sure how much data it was, but checking Mike’s site and then a couple of google searches (about an hour’s worth on a long bus ride) set me back about $60 CDN. Also, Mike, let me point out that I’m still, having lived in Hiroshima for about 10 months now, waiting for someone to come to my apartment to SEE IF I HAVE THE RIGHT PLUGS, so that I can join the 1-2 MONTH waiting list for internet and TV activation. And I’m on my second company for this, because the first one couldn’t even find my apartment.

  8. Mike Hoye

    On modern phones, there are now _three_ ways to get information into and out of them wirelessly. Regular cellphoniness, bluetooth and WiFi. And all that technology is just to work around a billing model.

    It’s kind of embarassing.

  9. Mike Kozlowski

    The point of the WiFi isn’t to get around the cell data usage (most US plans are unlimited — $29 for Sprint’s EV-DO, in my case), it’s to connect to networks that aren’t fully accessible through the internets.

    As for telling when you’re using your phone as a modem: I’ve been told, from completely unreliable sources, they do it by sniffing HTTP headers and seeing what user-agent your browser claims to be. (I think this came up in a discussion where people were confused at one portable browser having its images shrunk by the telco proxy, and one not.)

  10. Quotation

    You forgot IR.

  11. Mike Hoye

    Four! But IR barely counts, really.