|This article originally appeared in 24hrs Vancouver on July 9, 2008.|
There are 10 people camped outside an Apple Store waiting to buy the iPhone 3G when it is finally released at 8am this Friday.
Friday is also the day the iPhone will also be officially available to Canadians, but a line of a different sort is forming here. People aren’t waiting outside Rogers Wireless stores to be the first to buy this pop culture icon; they’re heading to the web and signing petitions of protest, or planning boycotts of the product altogether.
Consumers are upset with the pricing structure Rogers has set for the iPhone 3G. Rogers is offering a base plan at $60/month for 400Mb of data, 150 minutes of calls, and 75 sent text messages. Once you include the system access fee, 911 charges, taxes and a bundle to offer call display and an earlier evening time of 6pm, the price approaches $100/month. Once you sign the mandatory 3yr contract, the iPhone that is advertised at $199, will cost nearly $4 000.
RuinediPhone.com has been the website cum town square for people to gather and complain, with nearly 50 000 names on a petition demanding a change in Rogers’ pricing structure for the iPhone. The crowds have been buoyed by the buckling of Telia in Sweden, which originally offered the iPhone to its customers only with limited data plans, but has had to adjust to unlimited plans after a deluge in consumer complaints.
Despite the pressure, Rogers spokeswoman, Elizabeth Hamilton, says Rogers won’t be adjusting their pricing structures.
“I can’t speak to the business models or pricing strategies of other carriers or in other countries,” says Hamilton. “But for Rogers, we believe that unlimited data plans could well charge our customers for more than they actually use.”
Rogers has called their options “high value” and “flexible,” while critics like Gary Ng of iPhoneinCanada.ca have a different opinion.
“It’s ridiculous. 150 daytime minutes and evenings that start at 9pm? Come on,” says Ng.
Gary started his site last fall after he bought a first generation iPhone in the US and unlocked it to use in Canada. He knew other Canadians were also hacking the device so he created a blog sharing his experiences using the iPhone.
Once the announcement came that the iPhone would be released in Canada, traffic at his site blossomed. When the pricing structure was announced, Ng says the mood changed.
“People have just been complaining big time about Rogers.”
John Biehler is the resident iPhone guru for the local social media crowd, and he’s had his iPhone since last summer. John has been using his unlocked iPhone on Rogers with a data plan that allows him just 5 megabytes a month.
“It lets me check my email once a day, or every other day. And combined with desktop or WiFi at coffee shops, I only use it when I absolutely have to.”
That kind of discipline will be needed to survive with an updated iPhone that is constantly checking and receiving email. But if John can go on a 5Mb diet, why is there an outrage at plans that offer 400Mb?
“Well, the big difference between the phone that I have, and the new phone is the 3G, so you’re approaching WiFi speeds,” says Biehler. “It will be similar to what you get with your laptop at home when you’re surfing or checking email.”
Gary goes one step further, using his unlocked iPhone without a data plan at all. But if you try to pull something like that with an iPhone 3G, be prepared to pay.
This is from the fine print at Rogers.com: “Your iPhone will be enabled for data usage. If you subscribe to a plan with no data included, data charges at a pay-per-use rate of 5¢/KB for data sent and/or received over the Rogers network will apply, unless you subscribe to a data plan.”
That means uploading one photo you take on your iPhone to your Facebook account could cost $17, if you don’t subscribe to data.
So you’re going to need a data plan – but what exactly is 400 Mb? Here’s how Rogers estimates how 400Mb can be used in a month: up to 200,000 text emails or 3,100 web pages or 1,360 photo attachments.
That sounds like plenty, however Rogers estimates websites at 132kb for its calculations. But CNN is 900kb, Facebook is 900kb, TSN is over 600kb, heck even Rogers’ own website is 500kb. So make those maybe 600 web pages a month, or 20 pages a day.
If, on your morning commute you click on 4 articles at CNN, and 3 on TSN you’ve used nearly half your daily allotment of data without checking a single email, uploading a single photo, installing a single application, or watching a single video stream of any of those news stories.
Accessing the internet through the 3G network is only one way the iPhone can go online. It can also use WiFi networks; say through your home router or through another service provider.
Rogers does offer unlimited WiFi at any Rogers Hotspot. That will be great if you live downtown and have a café culture lifestyle. But if you live in the suburbs and expect to use your iPhone on transit, you won’t be able to access that WiFi, you’ll be using the cell networks and possibly blowing through your basic limits in a week and facing huge over usage bills at 50 cents / Mb.
The biggest benefit of the iPhone is the biggest difficulty consumers have with the plans – the iPhone is built to be used as an online computer.
“Rogers should suck it up and give us what’s fair and reasonable, and that’s unlimited data,” demands Tanya Davis of Netchick.ca. “The iPhone can’t be used any other way.”
Tanya is so upset with the Rogers pricing structure; she’s paying an early cancellation fee of $500 to get out of her contract and is looking forward to the launch of the Samsung Instinct, a phone similar to the iPhone that will have an unlimited data option with Bell Mobility next month.
“When I saw the announcement that Bell was coming out with the unlimited $10 plan, I just about lost it,” she says.
Despite the outrage, don’t expect empty stores on Friday.
“There’s great anticipation for this device coming to Canada,” says Hamilton. “So while I can’t possibly predict sales targets or inventory it’s our goal to put an iPhone 3G into the hands of every customer who wants one.”
“Sadly, I most likely will be one of the people there,” admits John.
“I already have myself on a list at a local mall. I’m one of the fan boys who have to have the latest and greatest.”
For others, sitting and waiting it out is the best option.
“I’m already using an iPhone now, and I’m happy with it,” says Gary, “So I’m in no rush.”