PSA: Buying off contract? Be careful you don't pay more for the same phone

Rogers vs. Telus - Same Phone, Different Price
By Kevin Michaluk on 8 Sep 2011 12:36 pm EDT

left: Rogers Bold 9900 - $549.99; right: Telus Bold 9900 - $629.99 - same phone, different price

I'm going to be honest here. When it comes to smartphone pricing, I've never been one to pay close attention. I just assume I'm always getting ripped off and paying too much for the damn phone. And when signing a contract, it seems a bit silly to me to worry about the up front cost as where the carrier is making their big $$ is through the following 12/24/36 months as I pay my stupidly expensive bills. Whether it's a free phone or $199 phone up front, I'm still paying thousands over the life of the contract - the up front cost is almost insignificant. I'd rather pay a bit more now to get the phone I want rather than save $50 or $100 and still be stuck paying a big bill each month for some phone I don't like nearly as much.

So for the most part, and because I buy so many phones as I'm switching devices all the time, I pretty much buy all my BlackBerry Smartphones off contract. And while I think people buying on-contract phones are pretty concious of pricing and how it may differ between carriers, I'm not sure the same is always true for people when they buy phones at full cost. And people should pay attention to this, as it can and does vary. When it comes to something like a tablet, RIM set the PlayBook's MSRP at $499.99 for the 16GB version. You know that's the full price. If you find it for less, you know you're getting a deal. But for something like that the BlackBerry Bold 9900, RIM doesn't set an MSRP. The carriers do.

I learned this lesson last night when I went to pick up a BlackBerry Bold 9900 from Telus for the recent winner of our CrackBerry GooseChase event. Telus charged me $629.99 for the Bold 9900 ($705 after taxes). Yet just a couple weeks ago, I bought the exact same phone -- the BlackBery Bold 9900 -- from Rogers off contract for only $549.99 ($615 after tax). Walking into the Telus store last night I just sort of assumed the off contract pricing would have been the same, akin to the notion of manufacturer's MSRP. But nope. I paid more for a Telus logo. It's worth noting that on a 3yr contract, Telus is actually $100 cheaper than Rogers for the same phone. So I guess it all evens out. But for buying off contract, I totally got ripped. And heck, for less $$ at least the Rogers Bold 9900 comes with a nicer packaging sleeve around the box. 

So as always, the lesson is buyer beware. In this case the money saving thing to do would have been to buy the Bold 9900 from Rogers, unlock it for $10-$20, and run it on Telus (you'd still have the manufacturer's one year warranty). Note - I'm talking GSM BlackBerry phones here, so the it's not a biggie to run a different phone on a network. I think it's time for me to mature a bit and start paying closer attention to pricing....  and on that note, I have to run to UPS and ship this phone to our winner!

Reader comments

PSA: Buying off contract? Be careful you don't pay more for the same phone


Although the price diffrence is a little silly it may be worth noting the Telus one is actually unbranded where as I believe the rogers one is branded below the keyboard.

My 9900 came unbranded (purchased on Aug 20). The sticker on the box says "from Telus", but the box is black as it is in the above picture and the phone doesn't say Telus on it, either.

My bold 9700 from Telus was branded... my co-workers' 9780's are branded.... however my HTC Desire and HTC Desire HD were not, and neither was my friend's Torch 9810. Looking over the curve recently, it looks like that one may also be going unbranded, but I could be wrong. Torch 9860 is also unbranded.

Logic says: 9900 is unbranded from Telus. Great if you don't want to broadcast who you're with. Even better for the carrier because not everyone wants to walk around with a brand on their device, keeps the device looking even cleaner, and gets people more interested in THAT carrier.

Something to note about this though is you're talking about unlocked GSM blackberries.

This PSA doesn't apply to CDMA phones (at least in the US) as Verizon will not activate a Sprint phone and vice versa.

Hey Kevin,

Do you know if I can I buy and unlock a 9900 GSM from Telus, Rogers or even TMobile and use it with my AT&T's sim card?

Would data speeds be same? Is there any difference between frequencies?

I dont wanna wait til November!! I want one NOW but only if it will work at full potential.

Any advice?
Torch 9800 & PlayBook 64GB Wifi

Yep. I bought Adam a Rogers Bold 9900 the day it came out in Canada, shipped it to him and he's been running it on AT&T. We got an unlock code for it and that was that. All good.

This has been discussed repeatedly in the forums. If you buy a 9900 from Bell, Rogers, Telus, or Virgin Mobile Canada, you can unlock it and it will work seamlessly on ATT because all of these companies use the 850/1900 UMTS bands for 3G and for HSPA+. T-Mobile USA does NOT use those bands; it uses the 900/1700 and so you will only get EDGE connectivity if you try to use a T-Mobile USA device on ATT.

But doesn't T-Mobile use 850/1900 for voice, so their phones have them? I thought it was only AT&T phones 3G wouldn't work on T-Mobile because T-Mobile uses frequency's that AT&T didn't use.?

T-Mo uses those frequencies for voice, yes, as do most carriers in North America and uses them for 2G data. For 3G and H+ DATA T-Mo uses 900/1700. You can use an ATT phone on T-Mo but will only get EDGE. You can use a T-Mo phone on ATT but will only get EDGE. You can TALK on either carrier just fine with any GSM device that has north american frequencies.

This scenario will only apply if/when T-Mo and ATT amalgamate. Until then, if you buy any AWS device- and that includes those sold by Wind and Mobilicity in Canada- you will NOT be able access ATT/Rogers/Telus/Bell 3G or HSPA+ for data.

Here in Canada, Bell and Telus are the CDMA carriers and they now offer GSM signals for 3G/4G and the only way to get a Bell phone to work on telus or vice versa is to have a clean history attached to the phone.

So the carrier will check the ESN on the phone, and the account that was attached has to be up to date and clean (not stolen or anything) and then the phone can be transferred to the other carrier.

And Kevin, I did notice this the other week when I picked up my 9900. A friend told me he bought his from Bell and it was over $600 and I laughed and said I got mine for $549 + tax and I unlocked it for $16.99 so I still came out on top big time.

Bell and Telus are selling the 9990, not the CDMA 9930. No ESN involved at all. You can readily buy a 9900 from Telus, unlock it and then use it with any GSM carrier. Or you can purchase a 9900 from Rogers, unlock it and then put in a Telus SIM card and it will work seamlessly.

I'm not sure about dumb phones, but neither Telus nor Bell has stocked a CDMA smartphone for a long time. They had the Pre and I believe the BB Style was the death rattle of CDMA for both companies.

It also applies to 3G+ phones, T-Mobile to AT&T for example, I can't buy the AT&T 3G phone and use it on T-Mobile's 3G network. Good call on the money point, none the less.

Yeah, I think we'll do some follow up posts here explaining which phones could be used on other networks, etc. Would be a good one.. the guide to unlocking a different phone on a different network.

I would love to see the article of which carriers phones can be used on other carriers. I have friends who travel to Canada semi-often to hit up the casinos & knowing which Canadian carriers would work for sure on the AT&T network would be great so when Rogers or Telus release the latest Berry & AT&T drag their feet like they're currently doing with the 9900 I could have them pick one up for me when they head up there & not have to worry about when AT&T is going to release it.

Yeah it's quite a rip off. I feel its sort of a monopoly even if you have multiple companies. It's sort of like gas prices. Regardless of what you say it won't change anything. You will pay what they ask for. I wish a carrier would come out and take down these thieves like redbox/netflix took down blockbuster/family video.

Send the phone to me! I'm an AT&T customer who can't get this phone (and I've signed the petition, but you could help a guy out!) :-)

What bothers me is that Rogers decided it was in their best interest to jack up their price to $599 off contract. I thought competition in any business results in companies LOWERING their price to stay competitive!?!?

I just saw that. Ridiculous. Unless I'm missing something - maybe there's a $50 instant rebate when you buy? (Can't remember if their site had it listed at $549 or $599 previously).  If they jacked i up though, that's craziness.

s it possible to buy a 9900 from rogers in the US? I tried to buy one online today and it only let's you pick from canadian provinces to ship to :(

When the 9900 came out it from Rogers was listed at $549. I know I bought one. I'm a Bell mobility Customer :)

There's an easy explanation to all of this. The cancellation fee is not calculated based on a 20$/month still left on the contract anymore. Instead, because of the legislation, it is calculated based on the rebate the customer obtained.

Let's say my phone is free on a 3 years contract, but the value off contract is 360$. That means the cancellation penalty will go down 10$ a month from 360$ until it reaches 0$. Why not jack it up to 720$ off contract (I'm not an unlocked mobile phone store, I'm a carrier, so I want to sell plans), that will means a nice 20$ a month penalty and the customer thinks he just made a good deal signing up for such a long time...

Edit: Applies to Canada.

I'm glad I read this, I was getting ready to buy a 9930 from Verizon off contract and have it hooked up on Alltel. I didn't know the unlock would not work on CDMA. Thanks for saving me some cash.

I hope I'm not hijacking this thread (sorry Kevin) but I'm in the market for a 9900 and with all the voice, data, BBM and other costs, I can't seem to figure out which way is more cost effective.

It seems to me that buying the phone up front should give you a cost advantage, but I can't seem to make the numbers work. I always seem to get a higher number over three years when you do a like-for-like service level comparison. Oh and yes, I live in Canada.....GTA.

Am I missing something ?

Buying a phone outright makes sense only if you use a network that charges a lot for renewals, are a multi-phone user (I.E Kevin and his endless blackberry supply I'm sure), or tend to switch carriers often.

If you don't change your device often, or you're on a carrier that lets you upgrade slightly more frequently without massive penalties (for example, being charged in store the 3 year term price of the phone and then say $10 per month remaining in your contract being charged to your bill assuming you had a smartphone), then it may not be such a bad idea to just sign the contract. Depending, different places are also always offering different deals for signing a contract, so you actually get a lot more value in the long run.

For the majority of us, signing a contract does make more sense. For people who change devices less than 6 months apart, maybe not quite so much.

I have always bought my phones off contract but to take advantage of the 6gig data bundle offered by Rogers I have to go on a 3 year contact. So I may as well get them to toss in a phone for $149 with the data upgrade.

I'm not against buying a phone out right. That's probably how I'm going to do here in a bit to upgrade from my Tour to a 9860 because my upgrade isn't available from Bell until April. But I see no advantage to buying the phone outright for a cost savings. Your monthly bill will still be the same. Unless I'm missing something. If I buy the phone outright my monthly bill should be less.

And I agree with blackmoe, if you have to go on contract to get the plan you want, you might as well get the phone at the cheaper "on contract price if you can. You're saving $400 over purchasing outright. Am I wrong?

there are some carriers (T-mobile) that have cheaper plans with no phone subsidies. So there is an advantage to paying for the phone out right.

Good article Kevin, and great discussion, however the true reality related to the on-contract / off-contract decision is somewhat different. Let me explain.

The main reason you would want to buy a device off-contract and pay a full price for it is so you are not tied to a long term contract. This way you are able to sign up for (or continue) with a carrier on month-to-month basis and switch to another carrier if you decide so. You would think....

The reality is however that in most cases going month-to-month will actually cost you probably twice us much as going on the contract. The reson is that all carriers have two types of plans: Regular month to month plans advertised on their web sites and offered to you when you call to open account or switch from another carrier, and term plans with (significantly) lower cost or additional features but requiring you to commit to a 3 year plan (generally 3 years in Canada and 2 years in US).

So if you shell out $600 on your own device and call carrier to sign up you will be paying more for the plan if you just get subsidized phone and go on contract. Unless you pay full price for device and sign a plan contract but that defeats the purpose.

Also carriers offer "retention" plans to customer who call to cancel their service. Those plans generally also require term commitment in order to get even more reduced pricing.

Unless you are on a good (and cheap) month to month plan already and just need new device chances are you are better off going on contract. And if you already have really good plan then chances are you are going to stay with your carrier for a while so why not sign a contract and get device cheaper.

Dont get me wrong - i HATE contract - it just reflects my hard learned lesson when I tried to go "buy my own device so I am portable" route and ended up getting screwed on monthly plan and concluded you cant get away from a contract one way or another.

Just an unfortunate reality of the wireless industry (in Canada at least) and how big three are ripping us off.

(btw - this does not apply to the "other" wireless carriers like Wind or Mobilicity since they have very cheap feature-rich plans without the contracts - but the problem with them is they are usually restricted to coverage within big cities. If you need service which works across canada unfortunately you need to go with one of the big three - ROBELUS).

Good points made here.

I guess for me the key here is that I DO stay on a contract with Rogers (so every now and then I grab a new BB at the subsdized price), but then I upgrade so often that I'm never due for an upgrade, so I just buy new ones outright to keep using on my contract plan.  

I tend to follow Kevin's lead on this one. I'm NEVER due for upgrades or subsidized prices because up until I got my 9800 Torch (which I bought 4 days after it was released!) I never used a phone longer than 3-6 months! I always had to rush out and get the new/improved/bigger/better/faster, etc. device! Tragedy of being a gadget geek, I guess! I've been with my carrier for longer than I'm willing to admit, but they treat me well-probably because I fatten their wallets and increase their bottom line!

Hardly any contract system here in India...bought 9900 outright for around 650 Canadian dollars. A bit surprised that the price in Canada is so high...we are used to getting ripped off here.

Bought a 9900 from Verizon yesterday. 3 year contract. Paid $135 and change after tax. Special promotion on now!

It seems that the quick and easy way would be to just compare the full price to the subsidized price, then take a look the early termination fee. If a phone is 199 w/ contract vs. 499 outright, with a 200 early termination fee, you still come out ahead buying the subsidized phone even if you end up paying the early termination fee. With the 9930 having both CDMA & gsm radios,there should be lots of options after unlocking.

I think it is a key point that Telus' 9900 was cheaper on contract. I've noticed on a couple phones before (forget which ones). As a Telus user who usually buys on contract, I'm glad that they tend to be cheaper contract price even if they're more non-contract price. It depends what kind of buyer you are.

How does one in the US buy the 9900 from a carrier in Canada? I didn't see a way online through Rogers or Telus. My 9700 is dying and I need something new asap. Thanks for any help!

You go to e-bay..... or you make a road trip... or you get in touch with a friend who goes to Canada often... or you get in touch with a friend in Canada.

When checking prices, remember to check places other than just the carriers. When I bought my first Bold, I got it for $100 cheaper at The Source than I would have had I got it directly from Rogers.

I thought I read that the new Bold's were world phones, so if you bought a 9930 you could still use it on a gsm network similar to the old 8830. Is there any truth to this because I'm thinking about switching from Tmo to Sprint.

Yes and no. Yes, the 9930 is a world phone. But here's the deal (I'm going by past experience with world series devices like the Storm and Storm2, so if I'm wrong here please anyone feel free to correct me!)

Typically, when a world phone is made for a CDMA carrier like Sprint or Verizon, it includes Voice bands for anywhere in the world (quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE). This means that yes, when you unlock it, you can put a SIM card in from any network and the phone will work as a phone and for low-speed data.

Now here's where the "no" comes in, and I start working off past knowledge with Blackberry devices as opposed to the exact current specs (too tired to dig for them at the moment). USUALLY, the UMTS/HSPA bands are left to only one band for these world phones: 2100 Mhz. In other words, if you're using the phone in Europe, all power to you, you've got great high speed data available to you. But the 3G bands for North America are left out (850/1900), so no high speed data.

This is also why people who are on T-mobile and looking to purchase a Bold 9900 have to wait either for their own to launch or for Wind Mobile in Canada or Mobilicity (also in Canada) to release it. This is because T-Mobile uses 1700 Mhz for their 3G/4G network, which Wind and Mobilicity use; Rogers and Telus and Bell use 1900 Mhz just like AT&T.

i bought my torch 9800 last year from at&t off contract and i got it unlock.. the device died after 3-4 days of usage... something motherboard related i guess.. anyway they told me that since its unlocked the warranty is void... is at&t different from telus or rogers in the terms of warranty??

I got my 9900 sim-free from the uk..

Kevin, just a thought, have you checked to see the level of bloat-ware on the devices? I know Telus has been slimming down on that stuff royally, perhaps this is part of why their price is a bit higher. I'm not sure if Rogers puts extra things on their phones still.

They only problem i see with buying a phone full price, being a blackberry anyways, is that rim does not warranty the devices them selves like nokia, apple, motorola and many other companys do. I ran into this problem when purchasing my blackberry 9100 through Wind to use it with T-Mobile because the 3G was compatible. When my device started having problems with the keypad membrane, like so many others are having with the 9100, i called rim and asked if i could get a warranty replacement and they told me i would have to go through the carrier. When i contacted Wind they said they werent able to help me replace it because i was not one of there customers and was not using the device under there network. So buyer beware, always check if you will be able to warranty out your device as you will be stuck with an expensive product that doesnt work in the end....

I've found it at the release date. I wanted the 9900 off contract and I checked Rogers and Bell. I was lucky when the salesman told me at the Bell store to buy the phone at Rogers because of 50$ difference.