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Making sense of Canadian carriers’ data speed caps and throttling

Wireless plans have several speed restrictions applied -- here's how they work

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Over the last few years, several Canadian carriers and wireless providers started adding speed caps and throttling to mobile data. The result today is a mire of confusing numbers and restrictions appended to wireless plans — plans that are often already confusing to navigate.

To help clarify some of this, I put together an explainer detailing the various data speed restrictions that exist. The main takeaway, however, is that if you want the absolute fastest mobile data, you’ll need to fork out more money per month for a plan with a higher cap (or no cap at all).

How we got here

To start, let’s look at how we got to this point. It really started in 2019 when the Big Three moved to ‘unlimited’ plans. Instead of offering customers a set allotment of data and charging overages for using more than that amount, these unlimited plans gave an amount of data at full speed and then throttled the speed once customers exceeded their monthly allotment. The exact speed varied, but for the Big Three, it mostly settled at 512 kilobits per second (Kbps).

It’s worth noting here that the Competition Bureau recently started investigating Rogers over this throttling practice. It remains to be seen what will come of the investigation, and whether it will expand to cover other providers offering similar plans.

But while speeds were limited for customers who exceeded their data allotment, they were effectively uncapped otherwise. Instead, the major limiting factors came from things like the network, phone, signal strength, demand and traffic, and more. However, that started to change in 2022 when, following the launch of 5G services, the Big Three started capping data speeds of users’ monthly data allotments on top of the throttling when users go over.

Telus kicked things off in early 2022, with Bell and Rogers following months later. Their flanker brands also started getting speed caps, which expanded in 2023 as some started to get 5G service, too. Regional players like Freedom have speed limits as well.

Why cap speeds?

This is a question that is, unfortunately, somewhat difficult to answer. Most carriers have a network management or fair use policy document that addresses throttling. In most cases, these documents outline that carriers manage traffic and throttle speeds to avoid congestion, optimize their networks, and provide a better experience.

MobileSyrup reached out to the Big Three to learn more about their speed caps and data throttling but did not receive responses in time for publication.

Who’s fastest and who’s slowest?

So, with nearly every wireless plan limiting speeds in some way, here’s a breakdown of the offers from various providers, roughly ordered from fastest to slowest. Additionally, these details are almost always available on carrier websites, but you may need to closely read a plan’s details and/or fine print to find the information.

Note: These numbers are subject to change; we will update these details when applicable. 

The Big Three

We’ll start with the Big Three, which offer fairly similar speed caps and throttling. One thing to note is Bell, Telus, and Rogers mostly offer 5G or 5G+ plans. Because of this, speed caps have less defined variance, with most of the lower-cost plans capped at 250 megabits per second (Mbps) and higher-cost plans usually offering speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) or higher.

Bell

Bell theoretically has the fastest possible data since some of its plans don’t have speed caps. At the higher end of its plan suite, Bell says plans have data at its “fastest available 5G+ speeds.” However, those plans are still limited to 512Kbps speeds beyond the monthly data allotment.

Other Bell plans are capped at 250Mbps, with the ‘unlimited’ data limited to 256Kbps.

Interestingly, Bell’s data restrictions have one notable difference from other Canadian carriers. Bell limits the quality of video streamed over its network. Bell’s most expensive plan includes “HD video streaming,” which limits video quality to 1080p. Other plans include “SD video streaming,” which limits quality to 480p. On those plans, Bell charges $5/mo to boost video quality to 1080p.

Telus

Telus offers speeds “up to 2Gbps” on most of its plans but falls back to a 250Mbps limitation on cheaper options. Telus caps ‘unlimited’ data speeds at 512Kbps.

Rogers

Rogers’ ‘Infinite’ plans currently sport a speed cap of 1Gbps for the data bucket followed by a throttled speed of up to 512Kbps for the unlimited data. Rogers’ 5G ‘Mobile’ plans, on the other hand, cap data speeds at up to 250Mbps and throttle to 256Kbps.

Flanker brands

Unlike the Big Three, flanker brands tend to offer a variety of data options, including 3G, 4G, and 5G. Speed caps vary based on the data types rather than by price. Notably, getting a 3G or 4G plan doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be stuck on 3G or 4G networks — instead, these plans work by giving you, for example, 3G network speeds while connecting you to a 4G network. A great example of this is Koodo, which said that customers with a 5G-capable phone might see the 5G symbol on their device, even if they have a 4G plan. However, those customers will still have the 4G speed they pay for.

Koodo

Speaking of Koodo, the Telus flanker holds a unique position, having both some of the slowest and fastest available speeds of the flanker brands, thanks to Koodo’s perk system.

Koodo applies the following speed caps:

  • 3G plans — up to 3Mbps
  • 4G plans — up to 100Mbps
  • 5G plans — up to 250Mbps (or up to 500Mbps with a speed booster)

Koodo’s 4G speeds are 50Mbps slower than other flankers, a hold-over from Koodo’s perk system. Perks allow customers to add one of several free benefits to their plan. At one time, Koodo offered a ‘speed booster’ perk that increased the 4G plan speed cap to 200Mbps, but it removed the perk after launching 5G plans. More recently, Koodo brought back the speed booster perk exclusively for 5G plans, enabling those plans to go up to 500Mbps.

Moreover, Koodo only offers ‘unlimited’ data through its perk system, and that perk is only available on some 5G plans. However, the unlimited data perk works like the unlimited data offered by other carriers. It throttles the speed of data beyond a customer’s allotment to a maximum of 512Kbps.

Public Mobile

Public, another Telus flanker, offers very similar speed caps and throttling to Koodo. However, Public doesn’t have the perk system or a way to boost data speeds. Public has the following speed caps:

  • 3G plans — up to 3Mbps
  • 4G plans — up to 100Mbps
  • 5G plans — up to 250Mbps

For Public’s unlimited plan, speeds are throttled to 512Kbps beyond the data allotment.

Virgin Plus

Bell flanker Virgin Plus keeps things simpler than Koodo, offering 5G or 4G plans with a set speed cap and, in some cases, unlimited data.

Virgin splits its plans into two groups, ‘unlimited nationwide’ and ‘fixed data.’ The former, as the name suggests, includes 5G plans with ‘unlimited’ use. Virgin caps 5G speeds at up to 250Mbps and throttles speeds to up to 256Kbps beyond the included data bucket.

For ‘fixed data’ plans, Virgin caps 4G speeds at up to 150Mbps. These plans don’t have unlimited use, and therefore no throttling — you just have to pay crazy overage fees of $20/1GB.

Fido

At the time of writing, Rogers’ flanker Fido doesn’t offer 5G plans or unlimited data options. 4G speeds are capped at up to 150Mbps.

Lucky Mobile

Bell flanker Lucky Mobile doesn’t have 5G, but it offers 3G and 4G plans with ‘unlimited’ use. 4G plans are capped at speeds of up to 150Mbps and 3G plans at speeds of up to 10Mbps. Lucky throttles both 3G and 4G plans to 128Kbps speeds beyond the data bucket.

Chatr Mobile

Rogers’ Chatr offers the same speeds as Lucky. It has 3G plans with speeds up to 10Mbps and 4G plans with speeds up to 150Mbps. However, when it comes to throttling, 4G speeds fall to 128Kbps beyond the data cap, and 3G plans fall to 64Kbps beyond the data cap.

Regional players

The most notable difference with regional players is that they leverage partner networks to provide service outside their coverage footprint. Because of this, some regional players have more complex speed caps and throttling systems, with lower speeds and more intense throttling for users on partner networks.

Vidéotron

Vidéotron says on its website that it doesn’t slow down customers’ data speeds. However, it also doesn’t offer ‘unlimited’ plans — instead, the provider includes a 100GB annual bank of data with some plans. Customers can dip into if they go over their monthly allotment.

Vidéotron doesn’t list a speed cap for partner networks, but it does warn that data speeds “may be slower” on partner networks.

Eastlink

Eastlink notes that data speeds will “depend on geographic location and other conditions.” For the company’s unlimited plans, speeds are throttled to up to 512Kbps beyond the monthly data allotment.

Freedom Mobile

Freedom does not appear to cap its 5G plans, but 4G plans are limited to speeds of up to 100Mbps. Speeds on Freedom’s partner networks are also limited to up to 100Mbps. When it comes to ‘unlimited’ plans, Freedom throttles speeds to 256Kbps for downloads and 128Kbps for uploads while on Freedom’s network, or 128Kbps down/64Kbps up on partner networks.

SaskTel

SaskTel caps plan speeds at up to 250Mbps and throttles data to 512Kbps when customers exceed their monthly allotment.

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