Telus Corp. will begin "unlocking" its cellphones that use SIM cards, starting on Feb. 15, a consumer-friendly move that comes as Canadian politicians push for more transparent practices for wireless companies.
The move will allow customers of Vancouver-based Telus to use their phones with replaceable SIM cards on local plans in other countries. This means a person could fly to England with his BlackBerry and buy local minutes or data plans there. This has not been possible with some "locked" phones, which are common in Canada and function only on the carrier's own network or on its chosen roaming partners outside the country.
Such restrictions have raised the ire of tech-savvy international travellers, because they have had to pay expensive roaming charges or carry a mobile device specifically for travel. (SIM cards are small cards that fit inside cellphones and carry data and personal information about the user.)
"Wireless devices are far more sophisticated and powerful than they were even five years ago and our customers are asking us now to give them the freedom and flexibility to use these devices as they wish," David Fuller, Telus's chief marketing officer, said on Monday.
Unlocking a Telus phone will cost $50 and be available after a minimum of 90 days of service (this condition is likely to make sure that a customer doesn't get a subsidized phone and then move the phone to a new network without paying off the original subsidy).
Brent Johnston, vice-president of mobility solutions at Telus, said there could be some potential revenue loss for the company, but added it believes its rates and packages are competitive enough to withstand such a risk. "We don't feel that insecure that people are going to run off to Rogers or Bell because of their network or their rates," he said.
The service applies mostly to smart phone users, Mr. Johnston said, as well as some flip-phone users who have voice plans. For now, the unlocking service will not apply to Apple iPhone users.
Customers with Rogers and Fido have been able to unlock their phones through Rogers Wireless since late last year. Consumers can also buy SIM cards from Wind Mobile without purchasing a Wind phone, but the phone has to be unlocked and compatible with the Wind network.
Large telecom companies are amending their mobile programs, adjusting to the shifting political winds that are leading governments to take action on behalf of aggrieved consumers of services such as wireless, Internet or TV.
Quebec introduced legislation last year that limits the so-called "early termination fee" carriers charge to customers who break contracts after having their device subsidized. Late last year, a member of the Ontario legislature introduced proposed legislation to prevent opaque billing practices. And the Manitoba government's consumer protection office started a public consultation on wireless services as part of a five-year plan to increase protection for consumers.
New Democrat MP Bruce Hyer has introduced a private member's bill to force companies to unlock cellphones, allowing customers to move easily between providers. When Rogers began unlocking its phones in December (also for a $50 fee), the Thunder Bay MP said the company was responding to mounting pressure.
"Network locks limit consumer choice and are bad for market competition," Mr. Hyer said at the time. "Wireless customers can't just go to another carrier with their phones and use them on another network, even if they're not on contract. These locks are a way to digitally chain customers to one company, and they artificially restrict competition."
With files from The Canadian Press