Public Mobile Wireless

Public Mobile to offer no frills wireless plans

Predictability and likability -- these are not exactly things often associated with a wireless carrier. If I had to choose a word for my wireless bill, it would be inflated and if I had to choose one for my carrier, it would be frustrating.

So it was with an abundance of cynicism that I decided to write about the newest player in the wireless space, Public Mobile. After all, how many more carriers do we need, and isn't WIND mobile the cool new guy on the block? But once I dug a little deeper, I realized that not only is Public Mobile trying to target a different segment of Torontonians, they might just be the most affordable option out there for those who only need the basics.

Public Mobile has been in the works for the last two years, and they officially received their license in the latest round of wireless spectrum auctions. Since then, they've been putting together their management team (including appointing former Bell Mobility President Alek Krstajic as CEO), announcing their name and branding, and working towards a launch (which is now targeted for May).

I talked to their VP of Marketing, Mike Stanford, to find out how the company is different, and what it can offers Torontonians. Mike assured me that Public Mobile isn't trying to compete with the major wireless carriers, or even new entrant WIND Mobile. The company is targeting what they call the untapped market of consumers -- the one-third of Canadians who don't currently own a cell phone. "To date the incumbents have not served the low-end of the marketplace -- working class, on a budget, pay cheque to pay cheque, hard-working Canadians who don't have a lot of money to spend on luxury items," Stanford says. They're targeting this audience through their no-contracts, no-credit checks, no hidden fees approach.

The backbone of their "everybody talk" philosophy is their only plan -- $40 for unlimited talk and text. That's right -- one plan, with the option to add voicemail for an extra $5, and unlimited Canadian and U.S. long distance for another $10 -- bringing your maximum bill to $55. If you go out of your coverage zone, you won't incur roaming charges; your phone simply won't work. For anyone who's comparison shopping, WIND has a similar plan at $45/month, but you incur roaming charges when you go out of your coverage zone.

Stanford maintains there are no hidden fees on Public Mobile bills. He was adamant that the company wants to be known for predictability and no surprises. As an iPhone addict, I was interested in data plans, but there are none available. None at all. Stanford says they may add some down the line but only if they can offer an unlimited set monthly price. He said they're also planning to add to the selection of phones -- there are currently only four available.

Even though they aren't launching their network for a couple months, Public Mobile has already opened 25 stores (15 of which are in Toronto), and is giving early subscribers unlimited long distance for life as a special promotion (Stanford says they aren't offering any incentive to switch from other carriers). Public Mobile will be launching service in Toronto and Montreal in May, and will eventually roll out service in their entire coverage area, from Windsor to Quebec City.

In terms of how they'll approach customer service, Stanford says it's all about likability and "trustability." As he opines, "Consumers will do business with the business they like and trust the most." They're trying to increase their likability by featuring "real working class" people in their commercials (no retouching allowed), and by creating add-ons like the "Hold On-Hold" song (it's actually pretty catchy). Stanford says they have one golden rule for any and all communications from the company: they won't do anything with an asterisk.

Consumers know it's not about the jazzy hold songs, or the TV commercials. It's about the plans, the phones, and the bill that arrives in your mailbox every month. Clearly Public Mobile isn't for everyone (anyone who's reading this on a Smartphone will agree). They're obviously geared towards the niche market of talk and texters who live, work and play in urban areas, and definitely not a data-hungry traveler like myself. But if they hold up on the no hidden fees promise, then I can see it being a practical solution for parents getting their kids' first phone, people on a tight budget, or, hell, anyone who likes a bargain.

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