Cell Usage in Canada: My Experience

I just took a trip into Canada and thought I would share my experience. Since Republic Wireless does not provide coverage for my Nexus 6P on Sprint and RW V3 plans in Canada, I needed to find options for voice, text, and navigation while across the border. Here’s what worked for me and what didn’t work for me:

First, for navigation I downloaded the free “Here We Go” navigation app. This app is designed to allow you to download maps so that you can have full voice turn-by-turn navigation assistance when you do not have cellular data service. Since I was going to be in both British Columbia and Alberta, I downloaded both maps while I was still at home on my wifi. In general this worked fine.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT “HERE WE GO”:

  • It’s free.
  • It always got me where I needed to go. I would never have been able to navigate Calgary without GPS assistance.
  • It’s very easy to use

WHAT I DIDN"T CARE FORE ABOUT “HERE WE GO”:

  • It doesn’t announce street names like Google Maps GPS does. It says “Take the next exit” rather than saying “Take exit 293 for South Maddison Street”. In areas with lots of streets and exits, having the street names spoken is a big plus. You can, however, glance at the screen and read the name of the street or exit at the top of the screen, if you can safely take your eyes off of the road.
  • When you need to enter a destination, it does a good job of finding exact addresses, but it doesn’t know very many things by name. This is a bit tough when you want to go to, for example, a restaurant and know the name but not the address.
  • I also learned a bit late that I should have also loaded a map for Idaho, since we headed up into Canada through Idaho. We spent the night in Sandpoint Idaho and when we were ready to leave, I tried to enter the address we were going to in British Columbia and it said “no map available”. At first I thought it couldn’t find the BC map that I had downloaded but i soon realized that it was saying that it couldn’t navigate me through Idaho into BC. The solution was to wait until we were actually in Canada and then enter the destination. Definitely my mistake and not a mistake of Here We Go, but something that you need to be aware of.

All in all, Here We Go was a huge asset and I highly recommend it for navigation where you don’t have cellular data available. It’s not nearly as feature rich as Google Maps navigation, but it does the job.

Now for my less successful experiment with talk/text/data in Canada. After doing some research I decided to purchase a SIM card from “iRoam” prior to my trip. The cost seemed reasonable and they had several options for talk, text, and data. The card arrived in plenty of time before the trip and I thought I was ready to have a successful cellular experience across the border. Wrong…

My first bump in the road was in activating the SIM. It wouldn’t activate via the web, which is the recommended method. However, I called iRoam tech support and they quickly activated the card. Kudos to iRoam tech support. With the card activated I soon had full bars of cellular service. I made a short test call and sent a test text and both worked. Terrific!

Well, maybe not. About 10 minutes later I noticed that I had no cellular service. I was not travelling and had not moved from the spot where I had service 10 minutes prior. I rebooted the phone and after rebooting the cellular service was back. Ok, no problem. Just a glitch. I’m ok now.

Nope. About 10 minutes later I completely lose service again. At this point I make the first of several calls over 2 days to iRoam technical support. I will spare you the details, but each time they had me try the same things over and over. Remember the old saying that insanity is trying the same things over and over again and expecting different results? No matter what we tried, I would have service for about 5 to 15 minutes and then would have no service. If I just let the phone sit it would regain service in another 5 to 15 minutes and then lose it again after another 5 to 15 minutes.

After 2 days of calls to tech support and not gaining a resolution, I asked them to deactivate the SIM and return my money. I was told that they could not do this and that the problem must be that the area that I was in had “spotty” and “insufficient” signal. I told them that I was in the heart of Calgary and that when I had signal, it was full bars of signal. They then insisted that the problem was that I was driving around and going in and out of signal, but I re-iterated to them that I was sitting in one place at my hotel and was not moving. We went round and round over 2 to 3 more calls and they remained adamant that a refund was simply not possible. They said that they had escalated the issue and that I should have a response from that team in 24 to 48 hours. I shared with them that this was not acceptable because I was only going to be in Canada for a couple more days, so a solution in 48 hours was not helpful. I again asked for the SIM to be deactivated and for a refund and they again said that this was not possible.

At this point I asked to be transferred to a supervisor and was told that there was no supervisor available. I then asked for a supervisor to call my wife’s RW phone (which was working fine on the hotel’s WiFi) whenever they could find one. A couple of minutes later a supervisor called and after a lengthy discussion, he agreed to refund everything except the few minutes that I had actually used in making the 1 test call and the test text message.

So, all in all, my experience with iRoam was not successful. And although I did manage to get a refund, I’m guessing that many people wouldn’t, because many might have accepted tech support’s repeated insistence that a refund would not be possible.

The next time I will do this differently. While I was in Canada I walked into a few drugstores and a Walmart and they al had various “no contract” SIM card options, at fairly reasonable prices. And most of the providers have kiosks at the malls, so you could get a SIM card there and have them available in person to verify that it worked. Unfortunately for me, by the time I was finished dealing with iRoam my remaining time in Canada was short enough that it didn’t make sense to try another option.

On a different, but related note: In retrospect I wonder if it is possible that the RW app was in some way interfering with the non-RW SIM? I wonder if it would have worked if I had deleted the RW app? Too late to try now, but maybe someone from RW might read this and provide an answer?

5 Likes

Sorry to hear the experience with iRoam was less than stellar. The Canadian cellular market is among the most consumer unfriendly on the planet. As you point out, prepaid service from local (in country) service providers is often the best option but I don’t know that I’d characterize Canadian pricing as “fairly reasonable”. Another resource for folks wanting to purchase a Canadian SIM before leaving the U.S. is here: https://www.similicious.com. I didn’t mention these folks when we were conversing prior to your trip because they had suspended shipping to the U.S. at the time.

The last time I travelled to Canada, I actually used a UK SIM from Three. Calling and text messaging from U.S. based numbers was accomplished using over the top (OTT) apps, RingTo (no longer accepting new users), Google Voice and Sideline. In the couple of instances I wanted to spoof my Republic number as Caller ID, I used the methods outlined here: Adding International Calling to a Republic Phone. I realize my “solution” is more esoteric that one would typically want to deal with but I’m a VoIP geek, so it works for me. :grinning: It also works because one can get 12 GB of cell data for 30 days from Three for £20 ($26.10 at today’s exchange rate). Outside the U.K. cell data speed is limited to 3G but there is no additional expense if one is traveling in one of Three’s Feel At Home destinations. GSM 3G data is plenty fast enough. Mostly it’s HSPA+, which rivals 4G LTE is real world (though not theoretical) speeds. For a time prior to LTE, HSPA+ was marketed as 4G.

OK, for those reading and wondering why I spent this much time on something most folks admittedly won’t care about, I’m about to tie this back to Republic. Calling and mobile access are in the pipeline for Republic Anywhere. When available those of us traveling internationally with a compatible phone should be able to use our Republic numbers OTT via Anywhere while temporarily using our Republic phone with a local (in country) service provider’s SIM. There would be no need to swap the Republic SIM back in nor would one be limited to WiFi. OTT works on cell data as well and in large parts of the world, cell data is priced much more attractively than here in the U.S. and certainly than Canada.

2 Likes

@rolandh: Any thoughts as to whether the RW app might have been interfering and causing the iRoam connection (via Rogers wireless) to come and go every 5 to 10 minutes?

It shouldn’t be the source of the issue. I’ve left the Republic app installed on multiple Republic phones while using alternate SIMs both domestic and international. I’ve not used an iRoam SIM specifically, however, and there would be no harm temporarily uninstalling the app to test.

You can download large areas of Google Maps for use offline. They stay good for about 3 months and you can get turn by turn directions offline using it if i’m correct.

2 Likes

I haven’t checked Google Maps lately, but at least in the beginning the area that you could download was more useful for city maps as opposed to larger areas. I needed maps of British Columbia and Alberta and I’m not sure that Google Maps would allow that. But maybe they have changed and now allow larger areas to be downloaded

I see what you mean, I thought Google let you select an area as long as you have the storage space.

While there is a limit to the size of each area you download for Google Maps, you can also specifically download point-to-point routes (which is much less painful than trying to download multiple large areas to cover your entire route). It worked well for me driving through Canada from MI to NY. Had I actually been visiting somewhere in Canada, say Toronto, I would have supplemented that with a specific area map download for once I got there.

Google Maps size limit is about 1/6 of Albert (2 across and 3 up and down)
one can have more than one offline map stored (I have many area stored for a cross country trip (2 each for the states of Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and 3 for North Carolina)
one can save space by not getting the hole state/province just get the areas you’ll likely be (one can always update on WiFi in between)

Point to point routes, while nice, wouldn’t have worked for me. That’s OK, for example, for getting to Calgary, but once in Calgary I needed GPS Nav for lots of different routes during the week. And downloading new routes on the hotel’s WiFi wouldn’t have worked because we needed new routes on the fly as we visited around Calgary. We usually didn’t know where all we would end up going that day when we left the hotel.

And I realize that I could have downloaded multiple smaller sections of the provinces with Google maps, but it was just simpler to download the 2 complete provinces that I needed in Here-We-Go.

I wanted to enjoy my vacation, not spend my time managing maps… :wink: As I said, Here-We-Go worked well, but I missed the spoken street names. Of course I have heard that Google Maps doesn’t announce street names either if you have no data connection and are navigating from downloaded maps. But maybe this is incorrect information. I haven’t tried it myself.

I travel to canada a lot and I’ve tried various SIM cards from different companies, including one that sounds very similar to iRoam called KnowRoaming. After spending many hours in different countries and spending a lot of money on SIM cards, hidden charges, etc., I stumbled across Skyroam, which is a portable wifi hotspot. It connects to cellular networks around the world and it’s perfect. You can buy or rent the unit. It’s a flat fee, about 10 USD for each 24 hour period that you use it, cheaper if you buy a pack of days, which can be saved indefinitely if you don’t use them. You can share the Skyroam with up to five devices. There’s no contract, no monthly fee, and you get unlimited data. For me, it’s worth $10 a day to have constant wifi and it is so simple to use.

5 Likes

Interesting info on Skyroam. I will definitely look into this. Have you successfully used your RW phone with the Skyroam hotspot?

Yes, it’s all I use. It’s perfect.

2 Likes

There aren’t any reasons that I can think of that the RW app would have any impact on the cellular connection, especially if you’ve rebooted after installing the foreign SIM. If there is any doubt, go ahead and uninstall the RW app and see if there is a change in the behavior. Then you can just reinstall the RW app from the Play store.

3 Likes

@marcelk : Thanks for the confirmation that the RW app should not have caused the on/off behavior with the iRoam SIM. And yes, I did reboot after installing the iRoam SIM.

However, I can’t try anything further because I have already terminated the iRoam SIM.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, fisher99. For navigation, I’ve found that I can carry something called a Road Atlas with me. Most of the good ones have every state in the USA and every province in Canada! They have even city maps as well, though not in as much detail as you might prefer. The big advantage of a Road Atlas is that you don’t have all of the technological hassles that you have with a “smart” phone, and you don’t have to be an expert in all things tech. I, at least, am not smart enough to use a “smart” phone for most purposes.

@johnw.pdvsog: Funny! Thanks for reminding me how I used to do navigation. And the big plus is that you never worry about data or GPS coverage!

But I have gotten lazy in my old age. “OK, Google: Navigate to Lake Louise”. And then I just sit back, happily absorbing the new countryside, while Google nav watches for all of the exits and turns. Or in this case, Here-We-Go was doing the watching. I think it’s making me dumber, but it still makes me happy… :wink:

3 Likes
Message an
Expert customer