Review: Public Mobile – Is It Worth Switching Providers?

by | Published Jan 7, 2021 | Edited Jun 17, 2022


Disclaimer: In this post, I am going to shill for a 3rd tier mobile phone network operator in the desperate hope that you’ll use my referral code: 395LQN so I can get a measly $1 per month off my phone bill. Irrespective of my financial motivations, I stand behind everything I have to say in this article about my experience with Public Mobile and endorse them as a solid service provider for a specific type of user.


The Canadian cell service market is often noted for ridiculous prices compared to what consumers in other countries receive. Mobile service companies charge outrageous rates, specifically when it comes to data.

While we have seen prices improve in recent years, it is not surprising that consumers continue to seek out the best value to save on their monthly phone plans. As expected, there has been a great interest in the second tier and third tier phone providers that still offer good service and plans with reasonable pricing.

Let’s dig into our experience with Public Mobile so you can determine if it is a good fit for your usage habits.

What is Public Mobile?

Before we begin our Public Mobile review, let’s cover a few basics about this provider.

Public Mobile is a Canadian self-serve cell phone service provider, currently owned by Telus and operating on the Telus network (meaning Public Mobile’s network coverage is the same as Telus). Public Mobile is a “bring your own phone” provider and their phone plans are all prepaid and non-contract. 

Public Mobile’s pricing is vastly cheaper compared to the big three mobile carriers (Bell, Telus, and Rogers), however many features are stripped away. Public Mobile could be (unofficially) considered a 3rd tier (‘no frills’) provider, where the big three are 1st tier, and Fido, Virgin, and Koodo mobile are 2nd tier. 

Public Mobile is similar to the business model of TekSavvy or Lightspeed as internet providers, Tangerine or Simplii as banking providers – you are running the same ‘network’ as the parent company and thus have the same network coverage (Shaw, Telus, CIBC, Scotia), but the customer service and customer support is stripped away or offloaded to reduce costs.

Aside: Public Mobile vs. Koodo

Koodo is also owned by Telus and a more well-known company. The main difference is that Public Mobile is 100% prepaid, whereas Koodo offers monthly and prepaid, self-serve options + customer service. Koodo also offers phone ‘subsidies’, as do all 1st and 2nd tier providers. 

Public Mobile Plans and Services

As an illustration of the radical price differential, here are the starting cell phone plans that Public Mobile offers. All plans offered include talk, text, and data for a reasonable monthly bill:

$15

100 minutes
Canada-wide talk

Unlimited
International Text and Picture Messaging

Unlimited
Incoming Calls

Bonus 250 MB
Data at 3G speed with AutoPay

$25

500 MB
Data at 3G speed

+BONUS 500 MB
with AutoPay

Unlimited Calling Canada-wide

Unlimited
International Text and Picture Messaging

$35

2 GB
Data at 3G speed

+BONUS 500 MB
with AutoPay

Unlimited Calling Canada-wide

Unlimited
International Text and Picture Messaging

All plans come with Voicemail and Call Display.

What is the Catch?

There are several downsides to Public Mobile. That is of course to be expected, as this is how they offer lower rates.

Limitations of Public Mobile include the following:

  • Data usage speeds are throttled to 3G (~3 mbps). They won’t be as fast as you might be used to on 4G LTE networks. But fine for most applications. If you don’t know whether or not you need 4G, then you probably don’t need 4G.
  • Not capable of WiFi calling or VoLTE features. If you don’t have a new phone, then WiFi calling is likely not supported anyways. 
  • You must own your own device outright. The economics of this are debatable, but in many cases, phone subsidies are a marketing scam and thus you would do best with bringing your own unlocked device. 
  • No phone support. If you have technical issues, you must get help via a virtual chat, ticket submission, or via moderators in the online community forums.

Unique Features of Public Mobile

Incentivized Community Forum

On the Public Mobile website, there is a rather large community forum, filled with content, Q&A, and discussion from other Public Mobile users, and moderators employed by Public Mobile.

public mobile incentivized community forum

Community users are incentivized to contribute to the forum through the Public Mobile rewards program. Depending on how much you post, you can qualify for up to $20 per 30 days in rewards for your Public Mobile account (I assume these are deducted from your monthly statement).

public mobile community incentive forum ranks and earnings

Referral Structure

This might be a bit gimmicky, but Public Mobile offers a unique referral structure. For referring a friend to Public Mobile, you get $1 off your monthly bill for as long the referee remains a user.

This seems like peanuts but can add up. If you refer just 5 people to Public, every year you’d be saving $60 on your phone plan.

The referee also gets $10 credit on signup for using your referral code. 

Certified Pre-owned Phone Shop

Public Mobile does sell phones and has an online store for low-cost pre-owned phones which have been ‘certified’ – inspected, tested, wiped, and audited by Telus employees. They come with a 30-day return policy and a 1-year warranty. Warranty claims can be serviced at Telus stores.  

public mobile certified pre-owned phone benefits

I’m not saying you should buy a pre-owned phone (although I myself have before). But if you plan to buy used, this isn’t a bad option. It certainly beats buying one off eBay or Kijiji, where you have no recourse if something is wrong with the phone. There is also the risk of buying a stolen/counterfeit phone (although this can be somewhat mitigated by checking IMEI numbers). 

The prices offered by Public Mobile aren’t too bad either. For example, the Huawei P20 Pro is currently listed for $399 on Public’s store, which isn’t far off what you can find it for on second-hand markets. 

Any phones sold through this service will be unlocked and thus can be used not only on Public Mobile’s network but with any other mobile service provider.

Who is Public Mobile for?

The ideal customer of Public Mobile is a tech-savvy individual who doesn’t have large data needs. 

It’s better if you are somewhat tech-savvy because, as mentioned, Public Mobile has limited support options – virtual only, no phone support and no in-person stores. However, Public Mobile’s community is very good and has been incentivized to answer questions in a very innovative way. If you are used to troubleshooting problems using forums, you can troubleshoot any problems you might run into with Public Mobile.  

As mentioned, Public Mobile has lower data speeds, and its most competitive plans offer lower data quantities on the order of 1 GB – 2GB. For someone like myself, this works just fine – I don’t surf or browse when I’m out and about, but if I need to check Google Maps or place a fast-food order, I can access my data at good enough speeds when I need to.  

Furthermore, Public Mobile is better for those who have low phone turnover. 

Since Public Mobile is bring-your-own-device, you will need to buy/own a phone outright, and you may not be able to rely on insurance or replacement coverage offered by a traditional phone contract. 

There are a lot of opinions out there on BYOD vs. contracts and phone subsidies. The reality is this: if you don’t tend to break phones or crack screens, and you find phones last you longer than 1-1.5 years, it’s almost always going to be cheaper to buy a phone outright and go with a “bring your own device” plan.

Consider if you’re someone like me: I’ve never had a phone last me less than 3 years, I’ve never cracked a screen, and I’ve never chosen to upgrade a phone for any reason other than wanting increased software/operating system performance. 

However, if you find you replace your phone yearly, or do make claims for damage or loss as allowed by your traditional contract, it might actually be more costly using a “bring your own device” plan where you’d have to front these bills yourself.

Ultimately only you can decide where you fall on this spectrum, and what type of plan is going to be best for you.        

Conclusion

Consider if Public Mobile is right for you!

And if you found my article helpful in making that decision and hopefully saving some money on your cell phone bill going forward, then feel free to sign up for Public Mobile using my referral code: 395LQN. You will get a $10 bill credit, while I will get $1 off my monthly bill for as long as you remain a Public Mobile user.

Anyways, happy frugal flying.  

Reed Sutton

Reed Sutton

Founder at Frugal Flyer
Reed is addicted to the science (and art) of earning and redeeming travel points, and frequently pairs his trips with his other hobby: photography. Through Frugal Flyer, Reed aims to distill some of the complex and esoteric points strategies into digestible information. Furthermore, he hopes to use his technical expertise to develop invaluable applications and tools for the travel community.

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4 comments on “Review: Public Mobile – Is It Worth Switching Providers?

  1. There is some support other than those mentioned in the article, any retailer that provides activations can call a support line on behalf of the customer to help resolve issues.

    Just curious, did you get enough referrals to cover your plan?

    Reply