Enter 40KKZ9 as your Friend Referral Code on Public Mobile! Also, why I’m using them…

Let’s start with the referral bit and then move on to why I decided to move to Public Mobile as opposed to the competition.

Assuming you’ve already got your SIM, are in the process of activating your account, and are looking for a quick and easy code to receive your $10 discount/bonus, the code is:

40KKZ9

(the 2nd character is a zero by the way!)
Use 40KKZ9 as your friend referral code on Public Mobile
Once you’ve completed the setup, the referral code above will also show up in your transaction summary with a note that “Your $10 referral discount will be applied to your account starting on your next cycle renewal date.”

Essentially, you pay full price for month 1, and receive the $10 credit for the renewal date (plus the $2 bonus if attaching a credit card for auto top-up). In my case, the auto top-up bonus was added to my account almost immediately, and the $10 credit was added to my account in roughly 24 hours with a corresponding text message that stated “Thank you for activating with Public Mobile. You’ve received a $10 credit! Please check the Transaction History or your account balance to see your $10 credit”.

 


 

With that out of the way…

 

Why I chose Public Mobile – Some Background That Began the Journey

I actually use my phone as little as possible. To give you a rough idea as to how little, before moving to Public Mobile, using $100/365-day top-ups and topping up before expiry, I had hundreds of dollars of unused credit that had accumulated.

Unfortunately, Bell bought my provider (MTS) and… well… if you’re familiar with Bell Canada you won’t be surprised to learn that things went downhill. Sure enough within a couple years they dropped the $100/365 day top-up option.

Initially I was going to move to Rogers who I’d used many years ago. However, the Rogers prepaid activation on their website would not allow me to activate a standard $100/365 day pay per use option. The only options it gave were for a $180/year annual, $65/monthly, and $50/monthly plan! I tried logging into my old account to see if there was another route to add a SIM, but my Rogers online account appeared to be pretty buggered up.

Not off to a great start!

I started looking around for alternatives: either another $100/year option or something in the $10-15/month range. None of the $100/year options matched what I’d previously had with MTS, so I decided I’d look towards the $10-15/month range, with stipulations being that I’d have to get a little data with it, and would need the ability to roam in the US periodically at a reasonable cost.

The options: Public Mobile vs Chatr vs Lucky Mobile vs Freedom Mobile

I looked into Canada’s main discount brands. For those unaware, they’re owned by our major carriers and generally run on their networks:

  • Public Mobile (owned by Telus)
  • Chatr (owned by Rogers)
  • Lucky Mobile (owned by Bell)
  • Freedom Mobile (owned by Shaw)

…I’ll hit these in reverse order.

Note: The comparison should be fairly accurate as of the end of 2021, but is subject to error – before jumping on a provider you should double-check the offerings.

Freedom Mobile – freedom to/from what exactly?

I’ll start here because I *really* wanted to find a way to make this work. Shaw isn’t one of the “Big 3” and Freedom Mobile used to be Wind Mobile. Unfortunately there were a few major issues:

  1. Shaw is actively trying to be acquired by Rogers. This creates uncertainty around the future of Freedom Mobile.
  2. No Freedom coverage where I am, which means all my options require a more expensive “Nationwide” package that make use of other providers towers/networks.
  3. High prices on monthly plans, messy fine print. The initial numbers you’re presented always look reasonable but as soon as you expand the details you find caveats. Most of the prices quoted are *after* a $5 AutoPay discount, and some of the prices are only for 1 year. The need to read the fine print repeatedly makes for a horrible experience. When it comes to data, trying to determine which plans allow you to continue data usage at a lower speed once you’ve hit your cap (and which shut off) is an exercise in frustration since a bunch of it is buried in their “data fair usage policy” rather than simply stated up-front with each plan. For addons, if you want to roam in the US with their Big Gig package, it’s $7/day – except that once you expand the details, you discover that you need to buy a minimum of 2 days which makes it $14. International roaming advertised at $12/day, but head into the details and you see there’s an 8 day minimum (a whopping $96).
  4. Ordering anything appears to require that you message an agent.

#3 is the one that really rubbed me the wrong way. The options/pricing were not completely clear, nor were they plainly advertised. The necessity of digging into fine print and uncertainty in what exactly I’d be getting (including what roaming options might be available under various prepaid plans) resulted in Freedom Mobile appearing to be a little less trustworthy.

The only reasonable low-cost option Freedom seemed to have that looked as though it might work for me was the $179/year plan + $10 activation fee which gives:

  • Unlimited Canada-wide minutes
  • Unlimited global text/picture/video messaging
  • 5GB/year data

This is all on the “Nationwide” network which would be necessary for me to use. It works out to approximately $15/month which is pretty reasonable all things considered – however, if I managed to burn through my 5GB of data, it looked like I’d be paying a minimum of $15 per 30 days for more. The add-on gouging and deceptive advertising (relying on fine print and/or looking into details) was the biggest deal-breaker – I might have given them a pass here if they weren’t actively trying to be acquired by the Big 3 on top if it all.

With that said, if you are someone looking for unlimited Canada-wide talk time, the annual Freedom plans are probably among the best deals you’ll find. Here’s a quick summary of the current offerings:

  • $99/year gives unlimited talk/text if in one of their coverage zones
  • $129/year gives unlimited talk/text in the “nationwide” coverage zone (basically using other providers networks)
  • $179/year gives unlimited talk/text in the “nationwide” coverage zone (basically using other providers networks) as well as 5GB/year data

Seriously, if you find a cell plan that gives unlimited talk time for cheaper than these Freedom annual plans, leave a message in the comments.

Lucky Mobile – Bell Canada wrecked my MTS plan, so I should go with another Bell-owned company, right?

For $15/month, Lucky Mobile gives:

  • 100 Canada-wide minutes (unlimited incoming)
  • Unlimited international text
  • 250MB data/month (if using AutoPay) at 3G speeds

Lucky also has a wifi calling app available (not to be confused with the actual WiFi Calling feature that phones/providers generally have).

The data is capped at 250MB. However if you were to step up to the $25/month plan (500MB + 500MB auto-top up data) you’d get unlimited data after you hit your cap, albeit at a reduced speed of 128Kbps.

A number of long distance packages are offered, each of which are $5/month (the time you get for that $5 depends on the destination country). Interestingly, I didn’t see a USA long distance package, nor did I find pay per use rates. Thus, I’m not sure if it’s even possible to call the US without their $50/month US/Canada plan.

No roaming is available. If you travel outside Canada I’d expect “no service”.

In the Top Up info in the support section, Lucky Mobile explicitly states that funds you deposit in your account do not expire.

Obviously being Bell-owned made this a no-go for me, though a lack of roaming would have killed it anyway at this price point. The only way I could see Lucky Mobile making sense would be at the $25 price point for unlimited data (with the speed caveat above). If you’d like to see a deeper look into how it compares with Public Mobile, there is a Public Mobile vs Lucky Mobile comparison you may find interesting.

Chatr – Rogers=6char, Chatr=5char, Fido=4char

For $15/month, Chatr gives:

  • 100 Canada-wide minutes (unlimited incoming)
  • Unlimited international text
  • 250MB data/month (if using AutoPay) at 3G speeds

Look familiar? On the surface, it looks like the exact same plan as Lucky Mobile. However there are a couple differences (beyond Chatr using Rogers network and Lucky using Bell/Telus networks):

  1. Chatr allows for roaming in various countries at the pay per use rates.
  2. If you step up to the $25/month plan, you again get “unlimited” data but at an even slower rate than Lucky once you’ve exceeded your allotment (64Kbps).
  3. Most customer service requests by phone or social media carry a $5 fee (taking action yourself via the web or the app is free).

 

I strongly considered Chatr, although the Rogers SIM activation limits I faced and the constant issues I’ve always had with the Rogers website prevented this Rogers-owned company from coming into first place. Similar to Lucky Mobile, Chatr probably makes more sense at the $25 price point for unlimited data, assuming you’re okay with the post-allotment speed being half the speed of Lucky.

Public Mobile – Pricing that actually dips below $15/month.

For $15/month, Public Mobile gives:

  • 100 Canada-wide minutes (unlimited incoming)
  • Unlimited international text and picture messaging
  • 250MB data/month (if using AutoPay) at 3G speeds

Once again, superficially it’s an identical plan to Lucky and Chatr. There are some differences here though, and it’s these teeny bits that make Public Mobile a little more notable:

  1. Recurring $2 discount for using AutoPay, bringing the monthly fee to $13/month.
  2. Recurring $1 monthly loyalty discount for each year you’ve been with Public Mobile (to a max of 5 years or $5/month discount).
  3. Recurring $1 monthly discount for referals.
  4. Discount for helping out in the community forums (varies from $1-$20).
  5. Reasonably priced per-use addons. For $5 you can get +500 Canada-wide minutes that you can use at your leisure. That’s not $5/month, it’s just $5. No expiry. Similarly for US long distance, $15 will get you 1000 minutes that you can use as needed. Same goes for data – $15 will get you an extra 1GB, and whatever you don’t use this month will simply carry forward. There are other various long distance packages as well for different countries.
  6. Reasonably priced US roaming addons, assuming your trips last for a few days. For $8 you can roam in the US with unlimited talk for 10 days (which works out to $0.80/day). Similar for text. Or $20 for 10 days of roaming US talk/text/250MB.
  7. None of the plans allow for unlimited data. Once you use your allocated data it just stops working until the next month (unless you buy additional data via an addon).
  8. The US is the only location where roaming can be done, and it can only be done via an addon.
  9. Everything is administered entirely online. There is no customer support phone number, and most support requests must take place via the community forum.
  10. Monthly plans are per 30 days (Chatr/Lucky charge on the same day each month, known as the “anniversary date”).

The discounts stack. If you use AutoPay and have been a customer for 3 years, a $15/month plan would become $15-2-3=$10/month. Help out enough in the community and you could end up with a bill of $0. This technically makes Public Mobile the cheapest option of the “Big 3” discount brands. However, you give up the ability for customer support over the phone and none of the plans have unlimited data.

Anything you want beyond what your plan offers (long distance, roaming, extra data) can only be accomplished via add-ons. A quick screenshot below (you’ll probably have to click for a larger version to read the small text):

Public Mobile Addons

Add-on options boil down to:

  1. Canada-wide minutes ($5 for 500 minutes) – no expiry.
  2. Long distance to other countries ($15 for 300-1000 minutes depending on destination) – no expiry.
  3. Data ($5 for 200MB or $15 for 1GB) – no expiry.
  4. US Roaming which activates immediately and expires after 10 days ($8 for unlimited talk, $8 for unlimited text, $10 for 250MB data, $15 for 50MB data, $20 for 1GB data, $15 for talk/text bundle, $20 for talk/text/250MB bundle).

For #1 and #3, the monthly allocation you get with your plan is used first – if you go over your allotment, it begins to use the addon you purchased.

For #4, Canadian cell phone companies usually charge so much to roam in the USA that it makes sense to simply pick up a US pay-as-you-go phone while travelling in the states. However, at $8-$20 for a 10-day period (depending on which addon you’re after), there are definitely some situations where it might make more sense to pick up the addon from Public Mobile before you head out on your trip rather than grabbing a US burner.

If you’re someone who doesn’t make a lot of outgoing calls, who only needs a slight bit data, and who is looking for the lowest possible monthly cost, Public Mobile’s $15/month plan just might fit the bill: especially since it can become quite a bit less than $15/month. The voice/data addons make it especially suitable if your voice/data usage is rare but “bursty” – if there are only a few times a year you really find yourself needing data, long distance, or extra minutes, you can pick up the 1 time addons and they might last you a few years.

Other Bits

One downside to the discount brands is that they tend to omit features such as VoLTE and VoWifi (Wi-Fi Calling) which means that currently voice calls are limited to 2G/3G networks. Data itself tends to be capped to 3G speeds. While some of these restrictions will likely lift at some point in the future (3G networks are due to shut down in 2025), it’s something to keep in mind.

In short, the discount brands are great for those who have basic requirements – especially when it comes to data.

One other aspect to mention: Bell and Telus share most of their towers. However, in the 2 major cities in Manitoba (Winnipeg/Brandon), Telus has their own towers and thus no longer use Bell towers in those 2 cities. This results in slightly less coverage for Telus/Koodo/PM than was previously available (particularly on 3G), although most individuals have found they still have adequate coverage. With that in mind, if you’re in an area of Winnipeg where coverage is iffy, you may want to factor that into the equation.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that 7-11 Speakout and Petro-Canada Mobility are a couple other discount options who both still have the $100/365 day pay-per-use option in addition to plans. Since 7-11 Speakout gives 365 days on *all* top-ups, they technically have a $25/365 day pay-per-use option that includes free incoming texts which is phenomenal if you can get by on about 30 minutes per year of talk time per year (or 66 outgoing texts per year) based on their current rates and after the monthly 911 fee that eats up over half of your $25 over the course of the year. However, when it comes to full-fledged plans, neither 7-11 nor Petro include any data with their $15/month offerings which means they really aren’t competitive in terms of low-end plans. Petro does allow data under the $100/365 day pay-per-use option although it’s currently $0.15/1MB which means 500MB of data will run you about $75 so you have to be pretty stingy with your data usage over the year to make this worthwhile.

 

Notes: Activation / Switching over to Public Mobile

Public Mobile has a very simple activation process. You need a SIM and a credit card (or payment voucher).

Rather than being assigned a new number, I ported mine over. This was all done online through the website during activation – it asks whether you want a new number or want to transfer one over. To transfer a number over, you need:

  • The phone number you want to port.
  • Your account number on your existing provider OR the IMEI on your existing phone.
  • Your existing provider’s name (note that for my old MTS prepaid number I selected “MTS Allstream” rather than the new owner Bell – interestingly enough, “MTS Repair” forwarded me texts from Public Mobile during the process).
  • A separate callback phone number in case they have issues porting the number and need to reach you.

It took under 2 hours for my port to be complete, and a few more hours for Bell MTS to deactivate my old sim from their network. During that period, I left the original SIM in my phone in case a verification text needed to be sent, and I popped the Public Mobile SIM in a spare phone.

An interesting hiccup: The Public Mobile SIM wouldn’t work correctly in my aging ASUS Zenfone 3 MAX for some unknown reason (even after resetting the network settings it would repeatedly connect to and then drop the Telus network), but the SIM worked fine in an older BLU phone.

 

Recommendations

The Public Mobile $15 plan makes a lot of sense in the following situations:

  • You want the cheapest possible plan with some voice/data and unlimited text.
  • You will be using Auto Top Up to save $2/month.
  • You plan to stick around for awhile, gaining the annual loyalty discount.
  • You don’t need fast 4G data.
  • You don’t need unlimited data.
  • Telus or Bell have coverage in your area (Bell/Telus share towers in most regions).
  • If you roam, the only country you plan to roam in is the USA and you’re prepared to purchase the necessary addons before travel.
  • If you make long distance calls, you’re prepared to purchase the appropriate addons beforehand.

The Public Mobile $15 plan does not make sense in the following situations:

  • You need lots of data, fast data, or unlimited data.
  • You refuse to subscribe a credit card for Auto Top Up.
  • You hop providers frequently, reducing the chance you’ll gain a loyalty discount.
  • Telus/Bell have poor coverage in your area.
  • You plan to roam to countries other than the USA and want to use your primary phone while travelling.
  • You’re not good at preparing for cell usage beforehand (you are unlikely to purchase addons before you need them).

I ultimately chose Public Mobile for the following reasons:

  • The most cost-effective monthly plan ($15/month which becomes $13/month with Auto Top Up, with other options to reduce it over time including a simply loyalty reward).
  • As-you-need-them Voice and Data addons that don’t carry a time restriction for usage.
  • More reasonable US roaming costs than most of the Canadian competition for US stays of a few days, albeit via a 10-day addon.

 

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