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Good Citizen / Bon Citoyen

Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than another?

I was originally going to post this as a reply to another thread.. but I'm thinking it's better suited to a separate post. 

 

So, I'm going to ask a question - and it might sound a bit contrary - but I promise I'm not trying to be argumentative, I'm just trying to understand better.  (Keep in mind I'm typing this as a current Public Mobile customer)  

 

In another thread, someone mentioned they switched to Shaw Mobile - but then quickly switched over to Public Mobile, because "Shaw's coverage sucks in you're not in a big city center".  It got me thinking about how I've heard this reasoning many times by many folks over the years - "Carrier XYZ has better coverage than Carrier ABC".  But my understanding and experience has been that all the major carriers in Canada (and I believe elsewhere) have agreements with each other that when you're out of range of their towers - they will automatically 'roam' on the other carriers towers.  At least in recent years, but maybe it hasn't always been the case. 

 

I'm an IT guy by trade, so I'm pretty well versed with technology - though I don't understand all the intricacies of the 'telephone and mobile phone' infrastructure, to be fair.  So before I switched from Freedom to Public, I purposely got a PM SIM and activated a number on a second phone so I could test this out.  I took the 2 phones with me side by side (Freedom is exactly the same network as Shaw Mobile), on a road trip from Calgary, AB to Castlegar, BC.  During this trip, I always hit a dead spot when we're heading south from Calgary to the Crowsnest Pass - while going through the Porcupine Hills between highway 2 and highway 22.  I was hoping Public Mobile (being Telus - who I've always heard have "the best coverage in the West") would have signal through there.  It didn't.  Same dead zones as my Freedom Mobile phone for my entire road trip.  Also, I enjoy mountain biking in the West Bragg creek recreational area - which there is next to no cell signal.  I was hopeful that my PM phone would have coverage - it doesn't - it's just as flaky as Freedom was in that area.  In addition to that, when I look at the various companies websites and check out the "coverage maps" and zoom to the same scale - they all look identical to me (*edit* My links didn't work well, so here's a link to some screenshots I took from the coverage maps: https://photos.app.goo.gl/7nDZhgksNwckybgeA).

 

So, what gives?  Am I wrong in thinking the "coverage argument" isn't a thing anymore?  My educated guess these issues are more likely a result of settings on your device.  IE: perhaps some folks devices are set to automatically switch networks/carriers, while others have to manually switch?  Or perhaps some have their devices set to LTE only, while others have them set to go to 3G when there is no LTE available?   Speeds are a whole other topic - and not my intent with this post.  Rather, just whether you have "cell signal", such that you can make calls, send messages, etc. 

 

What say ye?


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Mayor / Maire

Re: Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than anoth

@birchy as you've been hearing, coverage is very location-specific. My experience has been very good with Bell, Telus and Rogers. I haven't tried Shaw personally, but many friends in the GTA have, and they were not happy with the coverage, especially indoors. It's fairly easy to provide street level outdoor coverage for cities and towns. Rural areas and indoors are much harder.

 

Low frequency bands (B5, B12, B71) are best for coverage. But site topology (location, density, height, azimuth, etc) plays a big role as well. Indoor coverage for large buildings are a challenge too, and the big guys usually deploy special indoor systems in airports, stadiums, hospitals and shopping malls to improve coverage. One place you'll notice Shaw has great coverage over everyone else is the Toronto subway. They paid to get access to that system, but the big 3 didn't.

 

Not all carriers roam on each other's networks. Bell and Telus do not roam on anyone in Canada, as far as I know. Rogers will roam on the other 2 occasionally, and Shaw will roam on the big 3 as well. There is a distinction between roaming (using another operator's RAN and core) and RAN sharing (using your own core with another operator's RAN).

 

I work in wireless network engineering, and can try to answer technical questions.

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Highlighted
Mayor / Maire

Re: Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than anoth

Well...we have the odd mountain range in BC. ie. the whole place! Look at coverage maps from the link on the bottom of the page.

 

No, not all carriers will simply switch over to another carrier. Bell and Telus do so that they can be nationwide without the infrastructure. iirc SK and MB have their own providers but they "roam" on Bell/Telus. But I'm not certain. Rogers are on their own. Freedom roams on Rogers.

Once you're out into rural areas then generally only the big guns will find service. But still...look at the map. Then look at it for Freedom and Rogers.

 

From my experience and where I go Telus rules. I'm in BC.

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Mayor / Maire

Re: Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than anoth

Here is a Rogers forum link that is talking about this in 2015. One of the replies lists the provinces and the specific areas that would be covered in the "Extended" coverage.

 

https://communityforums.rogers.com/t5/Network-Coverage/Canadian-carriers-sign-domestic-roaming-agree...

Highlighted
Mayor / Maire

Re: Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than anoth

@birchy 

Firstly our all around hero on these kind of technical questions is @sheytoon. Activating the bat signal will soon bring his unique expertise to the discussion.

 

For future reference the cellular tower map below is a handy way to locate each mobile providers cell towers in the geographical area you would like to explore for coverage.

 

https://www.ertyu.org/steven_nikkel/cancellsites.html

 

Cell coverage varies by provider but it is well known that the telus/bell partnership has the most comprehensive nationwide coverage. They have nearly seamless coverage along all canadian highways and in cities/ towns and most rural but not very remote areas. Dead zones though are inevitable especially in mountainous areas. Rogers has the next best coverage overall and in certain regions will have better than telus/bell. Sasktel has the best coverage in you guessed it Saskatchewan. They have sharing agreements with the major players for that province.

 

Freedom was well known for having poor coverage in the urban areas it does service and no coverage outside of those areas without costly roaming charges. Over the last couple of years they have made large investments in increasing cell tower coverage in urban areas and entered a sharing agreement with rogers to offer their nationwide coverage but it is subject to usage limits. The recently launched shaw mobile has a coverage agreement with freedom and is only available to subscribers in the West ( Alberta and BC.)

 

The far north has some big three coverage but is better served by region specific smaller carriers such as ICE Mobility and others.

 

As a result your cell phone coverage is still YMMV depending on where you are located and may travel to.....but I have mentioned in the past that if you qualify for the shaw free service using it as a back up to public mobile will ensure that no matter where you are in Canada (with the exception of the far north) if theres a cell tower then you are indeed covered.

Highlighted
Model Citizen / Citoyen Modèle

Re: Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than anoth

@birchy 

 

I can understand your frustration with this. I used to be with Freedom and in major cities, I would lose bars especially indoors because they built their towers from scratch all those years ago and it still has a long way to go. Now the cell coverage maps aren’t a guarantee but an estimate. There are a ton of factors that determine coverage even down to if you enabled roaming on your phone. Generally, major carriers minus Freedom will give you great coverage.

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Great Citizen / Super Citoyen

Re: Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than anoth

@birchy 

I was with Freedom for a short period of time and with all of the different network providers I've been with, Freedom was the only one where I always had coverage issues in a big city. This included me having issues with not just accessing data but also with receiving calls, making calls, receiving texts, and sending out texts. I've been with Rogers, Freedom Mobile, Koodo, and now Public Mobile and I've only had issues with Freedom. So pretty much Rogers & Telus for me were always reliable while Shaw was not.

 

I remember one of the worst things about being with Freedom was when I took a trip to Victoria, I was not able to make calls. I was so sad when I couldn't even order pizza over the phone!🤣

Highlighted
Model Citizen / Citoyen Modèle

Re: Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than anoth

@JLakerson 

 

Freedom’s only good for their unlimited data plans that you can use as an emergency home tethering or something like giving other people in an area temporary slow Wi-Fi.

Highlighted
Good Citizen / Bon Citoyen

Re: Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than anoth

@Helpershelper - Strange that's what you got out of my post.  haha  (perspective I guess).  I wasn't expressing frustration with Freedom at all - in fact, my experience with them was great! The point of my post was the fact that I've found the coverage of all the providers to be IDENTICAL in recent years - including Freedom - so I find it confusing when people say one carrier has better coverage than another carrier.  The coverage maps seem to show the same, as well as the 2015 article from the Rogers forum that @kb_mv posted.

@JLakerson - Well there ya go.  My experience was exactly the opposite.  Freedom gave me coverage everywhere I needed for the last ~3 years - same as Public is doing now, and Shaw is doing for my wife/son.  I've been with all the major carriers out here the last 20 years, and I've had sporadic service issues with all of them (it was always the exception to the rule).  At this point - and I'm only a few months in - I've actually had more problems sending/receiving text messages with PM than I ever had with Freedom.

Highlighted
Mayor / Maire

Re: Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than anoth

@birchy 

I was with freedom til I switched just over a year ago and reception was the main reason. Very spotty at home in Vancouver and none unless roaming once you left most of the GVRD. I could get it way up the hill at my sister's in ladysmith weirdly enough and it would connect in certain spots in Winnipeg despite not having service there. Having the need of my back up phone with telus at the time at home was quite ridiculous.

 

Just over a year later and the new roommate has flawless coverage. I checked on the map (previous post) and lo and behold they installed a new tower on top of the mall 3 blocks away.

 

If you are having trouble sending texts try toggling airplane mode on/off to reconnect to the network. That sounds like a poor connection.

Highlighted
Mayor / Maire

Re: Is the "coverage argument" even a thing anymore? IE: one carrier is better than anoth

@birchy as you've been hearing, coverage is very location-specific. My experience has been very good with Bell, Telus and Rogers. I haven't tried Shaw personally, but many friends in the GTA have, and they were not happy with the coverage, especially indoors. It's fairly easy to provide street level outdoor coverage for cities and towns. Rural areas and indoors are much harder.

 

Low frequency bands (B5, B12, B71) are best for coverage. But site topology (location, density, height, azimuth, etc) plays a big role as well. Indoor coverage for large buildings are a challenge too, and the big guys usually deploy special indoor systems in airports, stadiums, hospitals and shopping malls to improve coverage. One place you'll notice Shaw has great coverage over everyone else is the Toronto subway. They paid to get access to that system, but the big 3 didn't.

 

Not all carriers roam on each other's networks. Bell and Telus do not roam on anyone in Canada, as far as I know. Rogers will roam on the other 2 occasionally, and Shaw will roam on the big 3 as well. There is a distinction between roaming (using another operator's RAN and core) and RAN sharing (using your own core with another operator's RAN).

 

I work in wireless network engineering, and can try to answer technical questions.

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