If you’re like me and you’ll soon be roaming in the US on your Rogers iPhone plan, particularly if you’re going to SXSW, you need to read this post. I suppose you don’t really need to if you’re stupidly rich and don’t mind backing dump trucks of cash right up to the Rogers loading dock. Let’s assume, for the moment anyway, that you aren’t and would like to give them as little of your hard earned dosh as possible.
The first thing you need to understand: if you don’t make some changes to your existing plan and you just go about using your phone like you do every day, you’re going to come home to a very nasty surprise in the form of a Rogers bill that will have you immediately applying for a government bailout package. I hear those are actually becoming hard to get, so you might want to keep reading.
The second thing you need to understand: there are at least three ways that Rogers is going to get you drunk and take advantage of you. And I don’t mean that in the sort of ha-ha-ha frat party sense. I mean it in the posting videos of you running naked down Yonge Street with indelible ink all of your body sense.
- Phone Calls that Hurt: Calls from the US back to Canada are billed at an astounding rate of $1.70/minute. Don’t answer calls from your friends at home (unless they’re calling to tell you that you won the lottery) since incoming Canadian calls are billed at $1.20/minute. You might think of calling ahead to Iron Works BBQ while you’re in Austin, but you better really want those ribs because that call is going to cost you $0.95/minute (hope you’re not on hold!).
- Text Messages Full of Pain: The good news is that incoming text messages are free. Just don’t reply to them (or even think of — say — trying to make plans with a group of people), since outgoing text messages are charged at the simply mind boggling rate of $0.60/message.
- Data with Very Sharp Edges: Oh sweet 3G data! Nectar of the web gods and very much priced accordingly. You’ll get dinged for $0.03/kb while you’re roaming, which means that you just paid about $10.50 if you’re reading this from my actual site on your Canadian iPhone (~350kb * 0.03 = $10.50). Hope it was worth it!
Is it really any wonder that all of their customers hate them?
There is some good news though, so read on before you abandon all technology and become a tinfoil hat wearing hermit somewhere in the northern reaches of the Great White North.
After a lengthy call to Rogers that involved putting me on hold for at least 3 or 4 minutes to answer every question, and a whole bunch of digging through their obtuse website filled to the brim with pop-up windows and other web browsing novelties from 1996, I’ve been able to catalogue The Ultimate Down South Traveler’s Guide for Rogers Customers. Here’s how to mostly avoid waking up in a gutter with a massive Rogers bill stuffed in a very uncomfortable place:
- Phone Calls that Feel Good: I was completely unable to find info about this on their site, but I’ve now added an option to my account that gives me 120 minutes of calling, over and above my normal plan, anywhere in the US or Canada, for $60/month. All of those calls will be treated as local calls, so there’s no roaming rates applied at all. If you’re a less frequent phone user, there’s a 60 minute option for $40/month. At an average of $1.28/minute for calls without this plan, I’m saving about $94 if I use all of the time.
- Text Messages Still Full of Pain: I have no good news here. I was told that there’s no way to send text messages while in the US for less than $0.60/message.
- Data with Dull Edges: There’s a little good news here. You can add the US Data Roaming Add-On to your account for $10/month, which takes data from $0.03/kb to $0.001/kb. That’s still a little pricey, but at least this page would only cost $0.35 to read instead of $10.50. Another way to look at it: the $10 you pay up front would have bought about 300kb of data without the add-on. Worth it if you think you might do more than look at a single image.
You can apparently have them add the packages for a fixed amount of time and have them automatically come off again. I’m doing quite a bit of US travelling for the rest of March, so I’ve had them add it when I leave for SXSW and take it off when I come back from my final trip at the beginning of April. I trust Rogers to actually have things activate and deactivate about as much as I trusted Halliburton with the reconstruction of Iraq, so I’ll be monitoring my bill like a hawk.
Avoid Charges Without Changes
Here are some steps you can take to avoid additional charges on your iPhone if you don’t want to make a bunch of changes to your account:
- When Your Phone is Not a Phone: Don’t make or receive any phone calls. If someone calls you, check the number in case it really is important enough to pay for and then double-click the Lock/Power button to send them straight to voicemail if it isn’t. Since SXSW provides free wireless to all attendees, install an application like fring and use your iPhone as a Skype handset (including Skype In/Out) or as a SIP client if you have access to an Asterisk box. Note that the wireless often gets completely overloaded, so don’t rely on this one.
- Inbound Text Messages Only: Receive all you want, but don’t send ’em. Let people txt you and then you either phone them, email them, or Twitter direct message them (since your data will be “cheap” and there’s a good chance they have incoming DMs going to their phone as text messages if they’re in the US).
- Data on the Cheap: Make sure you turn off Data While Roaming so that your iPhone doesn’t run up a massive bill for you (you’ll find it under Settings > General > Network > Data While Roaming). That will switch of EDGE/3G data but not WiFi, so you should still be fine to use wireless networks you stumble across. If you’re staying in a hotel that offers free wireless (or even cheap wireless), consider either bringing a WiFi router to share it out to all your devices (and friends!), or use your Mac to share your Ethernet connection wirelessly.
Did I Miss Anything?
Know any great tips or tricks that my research didn’t uncover? Leave them in the comments so everyone can benefit!
Notes on Rates
- All of the rates quoted above are in effect on March 8th, 2009.
- Rates for calls, text messages, and data from the US are from International GSM/GPRS Roaming. Select “United States” to trigger a pop-up window with all of the sordid details.
- None of the above applies if you’re travelling outside of the US. If you thought the rates were bad below the 49th, be thankful that SXSW doesn’t happen in Europe where calls are at least $2.00/minute.