Growing pains: Why I joined, and left, Wind Mobile

Wind Mobile

Last summer, I went to see two of my favourite bands of all time – Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails – at the Molson Amphitheatre here in Toronto. My friends and I grew up with these bands, so we reflexively bought the sort of tickets we also had grown up with – the cheapest available, which is all we could afford when we were in our teens and twenties. In this case, the seats were on the Amphitheatre’s sprawling lawn.

In many cases, watching a show from the lawn can be enjoyable. You can spread out, you aren’t constrained into a tight seat and you can move around. Getting to the bathroom – an important thing when you’re drinking beer – is also easier.

But there’s also a big potential downside, aside from the fact that you’re far from the stage – you’re also at the mercy of the weather. Sure enough, it dumped on us the whole show. Rather than the sublime experience I was expecting and hoping for, it turned into a miserable situation. My friends and I went home soggy and disappointed, rather than excited and elated.

I was angry at myself for cheaping out. I’m at a stage in life now where I have a decent income and can afford the occasional luxury, so there really was no reason why I had to self-ruin what would have otherwise been an amazing concert.

I vowed that if I was ever going to see a favourite entertainer again, whether it was a band or comedian or whatever, I would happily pay for a premium ticket. It wouldn’t be just to avoid getting rained on, but also because I feel like I deserve a better experience – and I can afford it.

The same line of thinking led me to again switch cellphone providers this past weekend. A few months ago, I wrote about how I had switched to Wind Mobile, away from one of Canada’s Big Three providers. I’d tested Wind’s network for a month and found it was slower, but decent enough to make the switch. Wind was and is way cheaper than its competitors, which made the decision easier, although not a slam-dunk.

A few more months of using the service, however, was akin to getting rained on at a concert. The initial reservations I had against switching to Wind manifested and mounted into frequent frustration. Over the past few weeks I’d come to realize that I could afford better and I wasn’t going to deny myself any longer.

Price is the appeal

Wind’s biggest appeal is its lower price, and tied to that is the greater network usage afforded to users. As I wrote back in May, I was getting unlimited nationwide calling and texting and four gigabytes of data for $35 a month, which would cost nearly triple on one of the Big Three’s “discount” brands.

The extra allotment led me to use my phone in data-gobbling ways I’d previously avoided. I got into music streaming services and I’d watch the occasional video. Sure, email and web pages loaded more slowly, but I thought that might actually make me a more patient person.

It didn’t turn out that way. For each new use the extra data turned me onto, there were two or three existing activities I had to give up on thanks to network slowness or non-responsiveness.

One example saw me at an Indigo bookstore, where I’d discovered a new Lego set that I was considering buying. I jumped onto my phone to check the price of the set in the Lego store at a nearby mall. When the website refused to load, I drove over to physically check, only to discover that the price was the same. That took about 20 minutes.

I suppose I could have called instead, but for some reason I didn’t think of it at the time. I realized that I had taken for granted the act of looking things up online. Nevertheless, Wind’s non-responsiveness cost me precious time.

Then there was the time when I was at a bar, telling a friend about how CNN had mistaken a gay pride banner for an ISIS flag. I tried to load up the story and photo, but no luck. I watched the status wheel at the top of my iPhone turn and turn eternally. So much for that conversation.

I’d worried about how Wind’s network would hold up indoors during my initial test in the spring. The AWS frequency Wind runs on is notoriously bad the deeper into buildings you get. I didn’t have many problems in that first month, but they did mount over a longer period.

One other smartphone use I gave up on: Siri. I don’t use Apple’s assistant much, but it had been my go-to function for the occasional voice-dictated text message to my wife while driving. Not so with Wind – I simply could never get it to work while on the move. I had to stick to sending those texts before getting on the road, and then responding until I was stationary again.

Speaking of family members, several reported repeated problems with getting in touch, which confirmed my suspicions that I was missing some calls. When they did come through, the quality was often rough, to the point where I’d sometimes phone the caller back on my landline (yup, I still have one of those).

All told, I lost faith in my phone, both in business and personal cases. I took to carrying a second device equipped with a Big Three SIM card as a backup (I’m usually reviewing one or two new phones at any given time as part of my job). Eventually, the backup became the primary.

It was with a heavy heart that I crawled back into a Big Three store and signed up for a two-gigabyte plan at $65 a month, or half the data at nearly double the price.

I hope Wind’s network continues to improve because the company is the best shot many Canadians have at seeing their monthly bills come down from being the highest in the world. A truly competitive Wind – with a fast, robust network – would force the Big Three to lower their prices.

As it stands, I don’t find Wind serves my purposes. The low prices are there for individuals who can’t afford otherwise – say, twenty-somethings stuck out on the lawns of the Molson Amphitheatre – but I need service that I can rely on, even if it does cost more.

Wind has done a good job in significantly boosting its spectrum holdings this year and is promising to upgrade its network to the faster fourth-generation LTE standard soon. I’ll happily give the company another try when that happens, but for now I’ve decided to come out of the figurative rain, as expensive a proposition as that may be.

Peter Nowak is a Toronto-based journalist, author and blogger. His latest book is Humans 3.0: The Upgrading of the Species. This post was originally published on his blog at Alphabeatic.com, and he is on Twitter @peternowak.

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