Over the years it has become a national pastime for Canadians to complain about the high cost of wireless service in Canada.

The volume of complaints typically rises to a crescendo every six months or so after a research firm publishes a report which finds that Canada has some of the highest wireless rates in the world. The findings are then disputed by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), an industry advocacy group funded by the telco giants, who tell us that Canadian rates are quite reasonable especially considering our small population base and the enormous size of our country.

The good news for consumers in some of Canada's largest cities is the competitive landscape appears to be changing. Thanks to the arrival of new wireless providers such as Mobilicity, Public Mobile, Videotron and Wind Mobile in the last thirteen months, Canadians in Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver are beginning to see lower wireless plan prices and more expansive wireless offerings.

The first new Canadian wireless company in years and perhaps the largest of the new providers is Wind Mobile. The company, which is controlled by an Egyptian Company Orascom Telecom Holding S.A.E, began offering service in December of 2009 in Toronto and Calgary. Since that time Wind has rolled out
service in Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver. By November of 2010, the company said it had close to 140,000 customers.

Wind Offerings

Wind Mobile offers three voice plans which range in price from $15 to $45 a month and three data plans which range in price from $25 to $35 a month. In the last several months, the company has also offered discounts on the first six months of existing plans along with other short term promotional plans.

For use with its voice plans, the company offers just over a dozen feature and smartphones ranging in price from $48 to $450. A data stick and SIM card is available for $100 and $25 respectively.

The company sells its products and services out of standalone Wind Mobile stores and through selected Blockbuster stores. Wind says these Blockbuster stores house a 150 square foot "store within a store" featuring Wind Mobile products, and staff that can to help with subscriptions and bills.

Picking Wind Mobile

Before Christmas my son asked whether he could have a wireless phone. After some discussion, my wife and I decided that it would be appropriate for him provided we could find a reasonably priced phone and plan.

I had no strong preference for providers. My wife has wireless service with Telus, my daughter has service through Virgin Mobile, a subsidiary of Bell Canada, and I have service with Fido, a subsidiary of Rogers Wireless. We are generally quite satisfied with the performance of each company although, like most Canadians, we grumble about the high cost.

Thanks to some cut-rate holiday promotions from the upstart wireless companies, I thought it would be an excellent time to check out their offerings and carry out a hands-on review of the service for Digital Home.

After Christmas, while investigating potential vendors and plans, I was alerted by a Digital Home reader of a new promotion from Wind Mobile which was cost effective and would be ideal for my son. The decision was made. My son would get a Wind Mobile phone with a voice and text plan and I would be able to assess the quality and performance of Canada’s first and perhaps largest upstart competitor.

The Nightmare Begins

On December 29th, I left my house with the goal of purchasing and activating a wireless phone from Wind Mobile.

In the intervening three weeks, I have been subjected to perhaps the worst retail customer experience I have ever encountered in my life.

My Wind Mobile odyssey which is detailed on subsequent pages includes: inordinately long wait times; faulty product; being lied to by Wind Mobile Staff; being patronized by Wind Mobile staff, being given false and misleading information by Wind Mobile staff; intransigence by Wind Mobile staff; and a refusal to grant me a refund.

The short Digital Home review is to avoid Wind Mobile.In compiling a list of pros and cons for Wind Mobile, which is detailed later in this article, I was unable to tally one pro and had to limit my cons to just six lengthy items.

On the subsequent pages, is a step by step account of my wireless nightmare, followed by an official public relations response from the company, followed by my summary.

Step One: Buying the Phone and signing up for a plan

On December 30th , a Digital Home reader posted details of a new Wind Mobile “Holiday All in the Family” promotional plan which offered unlimited local calling and texting for $20 per month.

Excited by the idea of being able to get my son a wireless plan at a reasonable cost (comparable plans from Mobilicity and other were going for $25 to $35 per month), my kids and I set off to my local Blockbuster, which has a Wind Kiosk and asked for the deal. The helpful sales clerk apologized and said that he couldn't give me the deal for reasons I did not understand but pointed me to another Blockbuster store several miles away that could sell me a phone and the plan.

I piled the kids back in the car and we drove ten minutes to a Blockbuster store at Parklawn and Queensway in Toronto. Inside, we asked the clerk how to sign up for the All in the Family plan. The Wind representative said that in order to sign up, I had to have the "form". I replied that I didn't have the form but could we download it from the internet and sign me up.

The clerk then proceeded to tell me how I could sign up for "better" plans than the All in the Family plan. I politely refused indicating that I wanted to sign up for the promotional plan that I had read about. The Wind Mobile clerk refused to offer me the plan and refused to tell me why some people were eligible and I wasn't.

The next day, on December 31st, I printed off the required form from the web and after reading through all of the typical disclaimer of who and who wasn’t eligible for the plan, it was clear that I qualified.

Rather than drive 15 minutes to the Blockbuster store and deal with an un-cooperative sales clerk, I decided to call Wind Mobile directly to sign up. Unfortunately, the sales clerk who took my order spoke English very poorly which resulted in a 45 minute phone call to process my order. The clerk’s English was so poor that she was unable to ever correctly input my email address and both my first and last name were misspelled on the order. For the record, my name is Hugh, not Uhugh.

Despite the lengthy and frustrating phone call, I was happy that I had ordered a phone and a wireless plan for my son.

Step Two – Activating the Phone

On January 14th, fifteen days after I placed my order, the phone arrived from Wind. I was surprised at how long it had taken to receive the phone but chalked it up to a busy holiday season.

Once the box was open, I called Wind Mobile to activate my phone. After a lengthy time on hold, I got through to a Wind representative and gave them the Sales Order number given to me on December 31st and asked that my phone be activated.

The rep informed me that sales order did not have a plan attached to it and I would have to go to the second level or I could sign up with another plan. I said I wanted the plan that I had signed up for previously so I was put on hold so they could put me through to second level. Two minutes on hold and they came back saying second level couldn't help me and that I would have to leave my name and number and they would get back to me.

While I was on hold, I noticed that I was also given a plan ID and a case ID so I questioned the representative about it. It turns out that using the case ID he was able to find my plan. Apparently the plan is detailed on the Case ID but not the sales number. Once the plan was found, I gave him my SIM card number so he could activate the account. After several minutes, he said I could not activate the phone because the SIM Card had been activated on a different phone. This was scary since I had the SIM card in my hand and wondered how could it be in a different phone.

After a lengthy discussion, the rep tells me that I need a new SIM card so I have to go to a Wind Mobile store to get a SIM card. He informs me that it’s just not any Wind Mobile store. It has to be one that has SIM cards in stock. He assures me that I won't have to pay for the new SIM card. After searching, he finds the closest store which is about a ten minute drive from my house. Great, now I have to go out for half an hour to pick up another SIM Card.

Arriving at the store some 30 minutes later, the clerk tells me they don’t sell SIM cards. They direct me to another store which I went to. Guess what? They don't sell SIM cards.

When I get home, I call Wind. The third representative tells me that the representative I previously spoke to has made two errors. Turns out that store doesn't sell SIM cards (no kidding!) and the SIM card could be activated over the phone but I needed to talk to a second level representative.

After an hour on hold, the second level rep told me that there was nothing he could do except contact IT and have them "free up" the SIM card but assured me that he would get back to me that day with an active SIM Card.
Wind never contacted me that day, the next day or the next day to notify me the problem had been resolved despite the earnest assurances by Wind support staff that the problem would be resolved by end of the first day.

Step Three - Trying again to Activate the SIM Card

On the morning of January 17th, I contacted Wind Mobile again. After waiting on hold for ten minutes, a representative told me that nothing had been done in the previous three days however, he had spoken to Lisa his "supervisor" and she would call me back before lunch with the problem resolved.

Needless to say, Lisa never called.

Step Four – Getting a Refund

Since Lisa never called, I decided that enough was enough and that I would simply asked for a refund and be done with Wind Mobile so I called in at 2pm and waited on hold for 15 minutes.

Totally frustrated at this point, I ask how I could end the nightmare and get a refund. The representative read the notes on my file and then asked how long I had been using the phone? I calmly replied that it was difficult to use the phone when the SIM card was not activated so the answer was zero minutes.

I then wait ten more minutes on hold while the representative inquired as to how I was supposed
to return the phone for a refund. The representative then instructed me to return the phone to a Wind Store that is a 25 to 30 minute drive from my home. I suggest that's ridiculous and why can't I take it to the local Wind Kiosk. I reasoned that if they sell them there, why can't they take them back there?

Back on hold for ten minutes.

The representative comes back and explains that he doesn’t know the area so together we search the Wind Mobile website. We look at the list of stores nearest to my home. Lo and behold there are two Blockbusters near me are on the list. He tells me that I can’t take it back to the one that says “Take out” beside it, but I can take it to the other one. I ask to speak to a supervisor to confirm this location would process a refund since I did not want to make another drive in vain. After several more minutes on hold, Doris the supervisor tells me in a condescending manner that the store in question was not a “Take-out” store therefore it could process my refund.

Step Five – Refusing to give me a refund

On the evening of January 17th, on the way to my son’s hockey practice, I attempt to return the phone to the store that Doris the supervisor said would give me a refund.

Since this is a nightmare, our faithful reader already knows the answer. The store refused to refund my money.

Call back to Wind Mobile. After 15 minutes on hold, the next rep tells me that the store is not a take-out store therefore it must take refunds. She says the store has a Wind Mobile Kiosk and that they have to take refunds because they are actual Wind Stores with a Wind Employee. I once again, re-iterated that they wouldn't so could I get a refund from the Head office.

The answer was no, I had to take it back to the store. She then said that I should go to a store at Jane/Lawrence which would be an hour round trip.

Step Six – Possible Hope for a Refund

After scouring the Wind Mobile website, I have found a Wind Mobile store at Yonge and Dundas. Since my wife works in the area, she will attempt to return it later this week.

Next: The Wind Mobile Response

Official Wind Mobile Response

The following is the official response from Narrative Advocacy, the press relations firm for Wind Mobile provided to Digital Home regarding this incident.
Good evening Hugh,

I have spoken with WIND's team and it appears the program that you were trying to subscribe to was one that was designed for friends & family of WIND employees. The form was provided to WIND employees to extend the offer to their network of friends & family members. Promotions of this nature are very common among organizations as a benefit to their employees. As you did not have the form when you visited a WIND Mobile store, the employees were unable to offer you the plan.

We apologize for the misunderstanding however this plan was never made available to the general public.

We sincerely hope that this helps clarify the situation, and we certainly regret the negative experiences you have had.
Comments on the wind Mobile Response

The Wind Mobile response makes little sense primarily for the following reasons:
  • The phone was ordered over the 1-800 number and not at a store.
  • The form makes no such disclaimer. I complied with every disclaimer.
  • The Sales representative accepted and processed my order.
  • If the sales order was invalid, then why send the phone and why not contact me to say there was a mistake.
In addition, Wind’s response does not address other issues such as: Why would the sales rep take the order in the first place if I was ineligible? Why did Wind Mobile say they would activate the SIM card then not do it? Why did Wind mobile reps not call back when the promised they would? Why did the Wind Mobile rep tells me the phone could be returned through the Wind Mobile store when it could not.

Wind Mobile Pros and Cons

  • None
  • Weak Management - can't get its programs under control and is unable to communicate effectively to staff. The entire Holiday plan was a major mess.
  • Poor Internal IT systems - An order processing system that requires you to give a customer a sales order number, a plan order number and Case ID and then can't reconcile the three is absurd. In 1990, it would have been acceptable but not in 2011.
  • Sales and Marketing - programs which are available but not available; a website that is inaccurate on critical issues; use of ridiculous terms which confuse rather than enlighten (what is a take-out store and how is a consumer supposed to know how a take-out store differs from another store); stores that aren't stores; stores that sell but don't sell sim cards; stores that supposedly accept refunds but don't accept refunds when you show up.
  • Poorly trained customer service reps - for the original order, it took 45 minutes to order a phone, this is unacceptable; in dealing with these poor first line reps, it's clear they have no idea what to do when something doesn't follow the script. Next you have reps who tell you to get a new SIM card when it’s not necessary; Reps who give out false information about what store can service your needs and so on.
  • Ineffectual customer service reps who have no ability to make decisions, only follow orders - Reps telling me they would love to help and then would read to me from their information sheets. Clearly they were trying but they had no power to make some common sense decisions to resolve the issues quickly and efficiently;
  • Supervisors and second line support who can't make decisions because they are forced to follow poorly designed and poorly documented procedures – the second line support staff and supervisors were unable to break through the problems and stuck to the script which led to providing me with information which was false;
  • Culture that encourages deceiving the customer rather than admit problems - from the first sales rep I met to the second line tech support to the supervisor, I was told and promised information and feedback that was nothing more than a lie. The first Wind staffer told me there were better plans than the one I wanted but when pressed could not come up with anything and refused to help me, second level tech who lied when he said my card would be activated by days end for sure, the supervisor who promised a call back in two hours, the condescending supervisor who assured me that a store would look after me when clearly they could not.