Bell raises prices, questions in the prairies (Updated)

Update at bottom

Bell’s website got a refresh today – their wireless plans are better laid out, with the various constituent elements (phone + voice & text, data buckets) more clearly delineated. Their 2013 annual report acknowledges that “our product offerings and related pricing plans may be too complex or customers to fully evaluate” – today’s update is likely an attempt to address that problem.

It’s not all window dressing though. Notably, most of the favourably-priced prairie plans are no longer clearly accessible on Bell’s site. Additionally, Bell is now offering prairie customers the same more expensive shareable plans it offers throughout the rest of Canada. Yesterday, 10GB of shareable data from Bell in Manitoba cost $75. Today it’s up to $145.

As of Sunday, Bell’s new pricing is no longer  competitive – Rogers, MTS, and Telus are all still offering considerably cheaper plans – for example, compare Rogers’ $65 unlimited talk, text, and 5GB data to Bell’s new 4GB plan priced at $110 (MTS has unlimited data for $60).

With that type of difference, and Bell and Rogers service plans being offered mere feet away from each other in mall kiosks (sometimes at the same booth), no one in their right mind would sign up for Bell service here.

It’s hard to tell what’s behind this move, and it will be interesting to see if and how the other carriers react.

Bell may be attempting to exercise some price leadership – testing the waters to see if other carriers will raise their rates as well. This seems rather unlikely though. Bell’s marketshare was only at 5% in MB and 10% in SK as of 2012 – it only started making inroads here a few years ago -and the recent negative press around tandem price raises should have made the wireless firms wary.

Is Bell maybe giving up on the prairies? Perhaps in order to focus on its traditional territory?

There are a lot of ins and outs, a lot of what have-yous, to this situation. However, given that Bell is mainly riding on Telus towers here, has little (if any) of its own infrastructure, and thereby its cost-to-revenue ratio has got to be favourable, one has to wonder whether there has been some sort of behind-closed-doors decision to vacate the area.

(The precise details of their network sharing agreement are trade secrets, but we do know that Bell’s only spectrum in MB and SK is the C2 block of 700MHz, not enough to operate a fully functional network without relying on its partner).

In any case, it will be interesting to see how this shakes out.


Bell has informed several other sites who picked up on this story that they are still offering their “promotional” pricing in MB.

They provided a link to Daniel Bader of MobileSyrup yesterday, who wrote: “Bell has informed us that promotional non-shareable plans are still available in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.” Clicking that link brings you to the old “Voice and Data Plus” plans, which are no longer shareable as of April 1.

Bell should ensure that the link on its website (new as of Sunday) that says “view all promos” directs customers to all their promotions, not just a limited selection.

all promos

Note that the more expensive “family shareable” and “personal shareable” plans (which seem to be identical, and are the same as those available elsewhere) were not on offer in MB or SK prior to this weekend.

So, it looks like Bell has announced a price increase on shared plans, while running a promotion for individual plans at existing prices. Sound familiar?

Telus did something similar in January elsewhere in Canada, when it raised rates and immediately ran a promotion at existing prices. That move was later followed by identical price increases at Bell and Rogers following the expiration of Telus’s promotion. It remains to be seen whether the same thing will happen here  or whether Bell will continue to run its “promotion” ad infinitum. What results will most likely depend on whether and how MTS and Sasktel, the Prairies’ dominant carriers, decide to react.



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