Canadians are purchasing cellphones in record numbers. There are so many choices in the cellphone marketplace that you need to carefully review what is being offered to make sure you choose the right option for you.

Whether you are planning to purchase a new phone or service, or to change what you already have, it is important to take the time to think about what you need and talk to as many providers as you can. This is a complex purchase, so the more time you put into thinking about what you need, the more likely you are to get what you need at a price you can afford. Below are a few tips to help you understand your cellphone needs.

Estimate the number of minutes you will need and when you will likely use them. Think about whether you will use your phone during the day, in the evening or on weekends. Many cellphone providers charge different rates for weekday minutes, weekday evening minutes and weekend minutes. The start and end time of these time periods can vary by provider and by cell plan, so don’t assume that all evenings and weekends start at the same time. Evening start times can make a big difference in cellphone costs. It is important to choose a plan that matches your usage.

Remember that, in most cases, you not only pay for the calls you make and the text messages you send, but also the ones you receive.

Decide what features are, and are not, important to you. Common services are call display, voice mail and text messaging. Choose carefully, since the more features you want, the more you may end up paying.

Although the phone you purchase may allow you to do certain things like take and send photos, send and receive email, access the Internet or play or download music, always check with your provider about the fees for using these features. They may not be included in the cell plan you have chosen.

Bundling Features. Many service providers bundle features together as a package, charging one amount for a group of features. This may save you money, but make sure you are only selecting and paying for features you truly need and will use. It is best to research the cost of the different features carefully.

Consider the physical features of the phone. Is it convenient to use? Find out about the battery life and volume and if possible check out the phone in the store to see if the keypad and screen are easy to use. Some phones may not let you use features you want such as text messaging or taking pictures. On the other hand, some cellphones may have more features than you will use and may be more expensive as a result.

Contract or no contract? You may choose to commit to a long-term contract, purchase prepaid cards or commit on a month-to-month basis. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these options. Long-term contracts may offer lower rates per minute or discounts on the phone itself, but these come with a long term commitment and can be very expensive to break if you want to switch to a different plan with another provider. Prepaid cards allow for greater bud getary control, especially for low volume users, but may not offer the best price per minute. Keep in mind that you may need to purchase a cellphone from the provider. If you choose a month to month or prepaid plan, you may have to pay the full price of the cellphone, but won’t be tied to a long-term contract.

Link between the phone and the contract. When you sign a long-term contract, the cost of purchasing a cellphone is usually tied to the length of the contract term. In most cases, the greater the discount on the cellphone (including the offer of a free phone), the longer the contract period you have to commit to.

If you have committed to a contract, you are usually eligible to upgrade your phone after a certain time for a reduced cost. However, this may involve renewing the contract for an additional term, locking you into a new 12, 24 or 36 month contract. Always check with the provider to ensure that you understand the terms and conditions of the contract.

If you change providers, your existing cellphone may not be compatible with the technology of the other provider’s network. You can, however, keep the same cellphone number if you are changing to a provider within the same general metropolitan area or local calling area. In order to retain your number you may have to set up a new account with the new provider before you terminate your existing account. Cellphone service providers may require notice to terminate your contract. Contact your provider for more information about the notification period needed to terminate your contract.

Fees and Charges. Be aware that there may be monthly add-on fees with any cellphone service. The plan price may not be all that you will be paying. Each month a system access fee, a 911 service fee and taxes may be added to your bill. You will also be charged for any minutes you used over and above what your monthly plan covers (overage) as well as fees for options you used that are not included in the base price of your plan. A system access fee, 911 service fee and taxes may also be charged every month for prepaid services. Check with the provider for more information, and before committing to a plan make sure you ask what your total bill will be each month based on the number of minutes you plan to use and the time of day when you plan to use these minutes, plus any additional features you order and any additional fees that may be included.

If you already have a plan, carefully go over each line of your bill when it arrives. Are you in the right plan? If your cellphone habits no longer seem to match your plan, talk to your service provider to see whether another plan might better suit your needs.

Coverage. The coverage area refers to the region within which a cellphone can reliably receive and make calls and send and receive data. Check to make sure that there are no coverage gaps in the areas where you will regularly use your phone.

Roaming. Roaming is a service offered by most cellphone service providers that allows their subscribers to use another provider’s system. This extends the geographic coverage area and allows you to continue using your phone when you leave your provider’s coverage area – when you are traveling on holiday for example.

There are additional roaming charges for calls you make and receive outside your provider’s coverage area. Fees vary depending on the provider used. Check with your provider before you head out.

Complaints. If you are unable to resolve a cellphone-related dispute directly with a particular provider, you can use the services of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS).

The CCTS, of which most cellphone providers are members, is an independent, non-governmental agency with a mandate to receive, to facilitate the resolution of, and, if necessary, to resolve eligible consumer and small business complaints relating to certain retail telecommunications services, including wireless telephone services.

You may also contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office for advice or assistance relating to the terms and conditions of your contract, billing issues or the provider’s business practices.

For more information and tools on buying a cellphone and cellphone services, consult the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Environmentally Responsible Consumer Tip:

When you have finished with your old cellphone or battery, do not throw either of them out. Your community may have a recycling program to help you dispose of them in a sustainable and responsible manner. Check with your municipatlity, or go to to find a drop-off location near you, or to print out a pre-paid shipping label. Remember to remove all of your personal information from the phone before recycling it.

Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services

P.O. Box 81088

Ottawa, Ontario  K1P 1B1

Toll Free: 1-888-221-1687
Phone (TTY): 1-877-782-2384
Fax: 1-877-782-2924


Federal Consumer Affairs Office

Office of Consumer Affairs

235 Queen Street

Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0H5

Telephone: 343-291-3280


Provincial and Territorial Consumer Affairs Offices


Service Alberta, Consumer Contact Centre
3rd Floor Commerce Place
10155-102 Street

Edmonton, Alberta  T5J 4L4

Telephone: 780-427-4088
Toll Free: 1-877-427-4088


British Columbia

Consumer Protection BC
#307-3450 Uptown Blvd
PO Box 9244

Victoria, British Columbia  V8W 9J2

Telephone: 604-320-1667
Toll Free: 1-888-564-9963
Fax: 250-920-7181



Consumer Protection Office, Manitoba Justice
302-258 Portage Avenue

Winnipeg, Manitoba  R3C 0B6

Telephone: 204-945-3800
Toll Free: 1-800-782-0067
Fax: 204-945-0728


New Brunswick

Financial and Consumer Services Commission
225 King Street, Suite 200

Fredericton, New Brunswick  E3B 1E1

Toll Free: 1-866-933-2222
Fax: 506-444-4494


Newfoundland and Labrador

Service NL
PO Box 8700

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador  A1B 4J6

Telephone: 709-729-2600
Toll Free: 1-877-968-2600
Fax: 709-729-6998


Northwest Territories

Consumer Affairs, Department of Municipal and Community Affairs
5201-50th Avenue, Suite 600
PO Box 1320

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories  X1A 2L9

Telephone: 867-767-9161 ext 21022
Fax: 867-873-0309


Nova Scotia

Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, Public Enquiries
Mail Room, 8 South
Maritime Centre
1505 Barrington Street

Halifax, Nova Scotia  B3J 3K5

Telephone: 902-424-5200
Toll Free: 1-800-670-4357
Fax: 902-424-0720



Consumer Affairs, Department of Community and Government Services
3090 – 9th Street
P.O. Box 440

Baker Lake, Nunavut  X0C 0A0

Telephone: 867-793-3303
Toll Free: 1-866-223-8139
Fax: 867-793-3321



Consumer Protection Ontario, Ministry of Government and Consumer Services
Box 450
1201 Wilson Ave, Station A

Toronto, Ontario  M3M 1J8

Telephone: 416-326-8800
Toll Free: 1-800-889-9768
Phone (TTY): 416-229-6086
Phone (TTY) 2: 1-877-666-6545
Fax: 416-326-8665


Prince Edward Island

Consumer Services, Department of Justice and Public Safety
Shaw Building, 4th Floor
95 Rochford Street
PO Box 2000

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island  C1A 7N8

Telephone: 902-368-4580
Telephone: 902-368-4550
Toll Free: 1-800-658-1799
Fax: 902-368-5283



Office de la protection du consommateur
400 Jean-Lesage Boulevard, Suite 450

Québec, Quebec  G1K 8W4

Telephone: 418-643-1484
Toll Free: 1-888-672-2556
Fax: 418-528-0976


Consumer Services, Department of Community Services
307 Black Street

Whitehorse, Yukon  Y1A 2N1

Telephone: 867-667-5111
Toll Free: 1-800-661-0408 ext. 5111
Fax: 867-667-3609


Recycle My Cell

Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association

1110-130 Albert St.

Ottawa, Ontario  K1P 5G4

Toll Free: 1-888-797-1740