The communications infrastructure in Canada is typical of a developed nation.
Canada, along with the United States and the majority of the Caribbean, is part of the North American numbering scheme and uses the country code +1. The structure for area codes and local phone numbers is the same as in the United States: 1 – three-digit area code – seven-digit local phone number. For local landline calls, the first “1” is removed; for local mobile calls, it is optional. Dial the complete number, including the “1” for long distance calls.
Most localities (even isolated places like James Bay) now have many overlapping area codes as a result of poor local number allocation strategies. This implies that even the most trivial local calls need the use of all 10 numbers. Only seven numbers are necessary in the few regions that still have only one area code (New Brunswick, Newfoundland, a portion of northeastern Ontario, and the three Arctic territories).
Currently, Canada acquires its toll-free numbers from a shared pool located in the United States. The entire eleven-digit international format is used to call these numbers: +1-800-234-5678. Mobile phone numbers are often allocated from the same area codes as landlines; the caller pays for the speak time.
011- is the prefix for an outgoing international call from North America. This prefix does not apply to nations like the United States that share the Canadian +1 prefix.
There are a few payphones in congested areas such as shopping malls, supermarkets, and local and long-distance train stations where you can call toll-free numbers (+1-800 and their overlays) and make local calls for 50 cents, but long-distance calls paid for with coins by incumbents are prohibitively expensive: nearly $5 for the first few minutes for the most mundane long-distance call. A few payphones are owned by obscure rival businesses, and the price for local calls is the same, while long-distance calls are normally $1 each three-minute interval. Incoming calls are usually blocked at payphones. Canadians often avoid coin-operated long-distance calls by utilizing prepaid cards or have abandoned payphones in favor of mobile phones or voice over IP (where Wi-Fi is available).
Unbundled internet telephony typically costs one or two cents per minute, however certain operators may be able to offer it for less.
Canada, along with China, Hong Kong, and the United States, is one of the few nations where mobile phone users must pay to accept calls. Mobile phones and landline phones utilize the same local geographic codes; all numbers are transferrable. When receiving an incoming call outside of the phone’s local region, call time and long distance costs apply.
While Canadians continue to pay some of the highest rates in the world, three operators (Bell, Telus, and Rogers) control 97 percent of the market and use multiple brands (Fido and Chatr are Rogers, Koodo and Public Mobile are Telus, and Virgin and Solo are Bell) to create the illusion of competition.
In cities and in key transportation routes, network coverage is excellent, but in many isolated locations, it is non-existent. There are several stretches of the Trans-Canada Highway that have no signal at all. Mobile phones only function in a short region surrounding the territorial capitals in the High Arctic.
Regional service providers include MTS in Manitoba, SaskTel in Saskatchewan, and Videotron in Quebec (including Ottawa-Hull). With incumbents having a three-decade head start in establishing networks, an effort to allow new entrants (Wind, Mobilicity, Public Mobile) in 2010 was too little, too late. While almost a million subscribers subscribed to one of the new carriers, Mobilicity was later purchased by Rogers, Telus purchased Public Mobile’s client list and shut down the network (devices make fantastic paperweights), and the fourth network, Wind, was purchased by Shaw.
The three main providers provide UMTS (WCDMA/HSPA) service on the North American 850 MHz/1900 MHz bands (which are not common frequencies in Europe) and LTE in several major cities. Analogue cellular service (AMPS) has been discontinued; GSM is still accessible via Rogers (but not at Bell and Telus, which support CDMA). Wind Mobile runs on non-standard frequencies (a 1700/2100 MHz AWS/UMTS network) in a few urban regions.
Various “virtual mobile” operators purchase access to the major three carriers in order to resell phones (or SIM cards) under their own brand; for example, Loblaws’ prepaid service “PC Mobile” utilizes Bell’s network, while ZtarMobile (“7-Eleven,” “Quickie,” and “Petro-Canada”) uses Rogers.
Anyone may get a Canadian prepaid cellphone number; even blatantly fake individuals (such as “Pierre Poutine, Rue des Séparatistes, Joliette”) have previously subscribed to a prepaid number with no questions asked. On these plans, mobile data is often costly (one penny per megabyte is normal, with a minimum of $2/day for data on PC Mobile or a minimum of $10/month on Petro-Canada), and prepaid long-distance mobile calls may cost up to 40 cents/minute on top of the 20-25 cents/minute for local calls. Ice Wireless charges $19 per month for a SugarMobile prepaid SIM card with 200 MB of data and includes VoIP instead of mobile voice in the package. For a monthly charge, several carriers provide “night and weekend” pricing on local calls.
If a Canadian postal address is given and a credit card is pre-authorized for bill payment, several operators will provide postpaid cellular services to nonresident Americans. Another option for iPad-type tablets is to get a prepaid Visa or MasterCard from a supermarket or post office, which can be registered to any Canadian address (as opposed to vanilla cards, which only allow registration of a postal code) and used for 30-day subscriptions to Bell or Telus data services (both of which require a Visa/MasterCard with a Canadian address for activation, even if it is prepaid). Activation takes place on the device itself; you must enter your payment information and then choose a plan, which is typically $35 for 5GB with one or two smaller possibilities.
Fido, Virgin Mobile, and Koodo all have lower postpaid pricing than prepaid rates; Fido, for example, costs $30 for 1 GB of prepaid data. Wind charges the same pricing for both prepaid and postpaid customers.
To minimize competition, most mobile phones in Canada are sold by network providers (or their resellers), and SIM cards are prohibited. A few computer/electronics stores (for example, Factory Direct and Canada Computers in Ontario) sell non-proprietary products at a higher price (check compatibility; a GSM-only device will only work with Rogers, a device on the wrong frequencies will not work at all). Third-party websites provide unlock codes for many popular smartphones for $10-20; this is the lowest alternative if feasible, since network carriers may charge $50 to unlock a device at the conclusion of a contract.
Prepaid SIM cards are available from all major carriers for travelers who have unlocked handsets that fit local standards and frequencies. A prepaid SIM card with a predetermined amount of talk time typically costs $40. Certain big Loblaws supermarkets sell a $10 SIM card, and some Petro-Canada gas stations sell a $15 SIM card (both on the Bell and Rogers networks), however prepaid talk time must be bought separately. Wind costs $25 for an AWS band SIM card with no minutes; this card may be more cost-effective for heavy data users, since it provides 5GB of 3G data (within Wind’s service region) and unlimited calls and texts for $35 a month. In most cases, a free phone call is necessary to activate the prepaid SIM card (issuing a local Canadian number in a selected city).
New CDMA devices will no longer be available, since Telus and TBayTel have already decommissioned their CDMA networks, and Bell is likely to do the same by the end of 2016.
Prepaid rates do not normally allow for international roaming. Because most roaming plans charge excessive charges (usually $1.50/minute for the top three plans), it’s better to deactivate roaming in the phone’s settings while using a Canadian device near the US border to prevent a pricey surprise. Wind is an exception: for an additional $15 per month (on top of its $35 unlimited Canada plan), it provides unlimited talk and text in the US as well as 5GB of 3G data.
Internet in Canada
There are several methods to connect to the internet, including a number of terminals located in most public libraries.
Most big and medium-sized cities have internet cafés and gaming cafés, however the latter are becoming more scarce since wi-fi is readily accessible in public locations such as libraries, cafés, and hotels.
While some demand high fees, others, such as Blenz’s, McDonald’s, Second Cup, and certain Tim Horton’s and Starbucks, provide free Wi-Fi. Even if the institution charges for internet connection, you are expected to buy their goods. Purchasing a modest coffee or tea typically suffices to meet this need.
Most airports and Via Rail stations have free Wi-Fi in their passenger spaces. Commercial mailrooms (such as The UPS Store) charge a fee for computer time and provide fax, copy, print, and mail services. Ontario provides free Wi-Fi at rest stops along Highways 400 and 401. Wi-Fi is normally available for a charge in Chapters/Indigo bookshops (many have a Starbucks).
Post Offices in Canada
Although delivery timeframes vary based on the shipping method selected and the size of the item or package, Canada Post is quite dependable. A domestic letter costs between 85 cents and a $1 as of April 2014. International package delivery services might be costly. The red and white Canada Post signage are primarily used to identify post offices. Some pharmacies, such as Shoppers Drug Mart, IDA, Pharmaplus, Jean Coutu, and Uniprix, have smaller full-service facilities. These branches are often open longer and on weekends, although post offices are typically open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“General delivery” (poste restante) for incoming mail is offered for a charge at all bigger post offices, but not smaller post offices such as pharmacies. It is seldom utilized since it provides no cost savings over renting a post office box.
There are various courier services available around the nation, such as Purolator. UPS and FedEx, both based in the United States, also service Canada. Some (but far from all) intercity bus operators accept domestic items for delivery to cities along the same bus route. Courier shipments cannot be delivered to post office boxes or stored for public delivery, however they may be held for pickup by some business receiving offices.
Fax transmission services are available in some post offices and commercial receiving offices, however availability varies by region.
Canadian addresses commonly utilize the format shown below, which is quite similar to that used in the United States and Australia.
The recipient’s name
The location and name of the street
(If applicable) Suite, apartment, or building number.
Postcode, city or town, two-letter provincial abbreviation
It should be noted that postal codes in Canada are based on the alphanumeric approach used in the United Kingdom.