How good is Freedom Mobile’s LTE network?

By: Ted Kritsonis

February 17, 2017

 

The carrier formerly known as Wind Mobile rebranded as Freedom Mobile at the same time it launched its own LTE network in November 2016 in Toronto and Vancouver, so how good is it three months in?

It got off to a rough start initially, with customers reporting they weren’t seeing LTE connections, but things have gotten better since. The constant caveat for this LTE network is that it runs on AWS-3, otherwise known as Band 66, which has little support up to now.

Network rollout

Freedom (then Wind) had acquired it through government wireless spectrum auctions for Ontario, Alberta and B.C. Rolling out the network will cost an estimated $250 million, staggering it out through the Greater Toronto and Greater Vancouver areas first up to this spring, followed by Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa by the summer. Southwestern and southeastern Ontario would cap things off in the fall.

The same “Home” and “Away” zones apply. Venturing into an Away zone onto another carrier’s network costs $0.15/minute of talk, $0.05 per text and $0.05 per megabyte of data. It doesn’t include the Everywhere Talk and Text Freedom offers on other plans.

Roaming in the U.S. on LTE networks there will be opened up in the spring, likely through AT&T or Verizon, who both own Band 66 spectrum too. Those on 3G plans will continue to access 3G when roaming, and will also act as a fallback for LTE customers.

Despite the limitations, the monthly plan is compelling. Until Feb. 22, Freedom is offering its LTE plan for $35/month, switching to $45/month after 10 months. It includes unlimited calling to Canada and the U.S. There is 3GB of data already in there, but another 3GB is tacked on for a total of 6GB, except that will expire on January 31, 2018. Freedom says there will be “different offers and plans available” customers can choose from, but has not elaborated on what those might look like.

Even at $45, that is a fraction of what a similar plan would cost with one of the Big 3. For example, a Rogers Share Everything plan with 5GB of data is $115/month. With Telus, a similar plan with 2.5GB of data is $100/month. Bell has a 5GB Share plan that costs $125/month.

The discrepancy is huge, except there’s another current roadblock. As of this review, only the LG V20 and ZTE Grand X 4 are capable of running on Freedom’s LTE network. That is poised to change as newer devices are launched this year, where Band 66 could be included in a number of flagship devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6, among others. What about the iPhone? We won’t know until Apple launches the next one.

Network performance

Freedom’s LTE network is like a highway that has one or two cars on it. Congestion is not a problem and speed isn’t constrained too much by traffic. I was only able to test the network in the GTA, so am not sure how well it currently operates in Vancouver. I did, however, test it with both compatible phones.

Far from being a scientific experiment, my testing was largely a collection of many anecdotes to ascertain connectivity and note any patterns. For instance, Freedom’s 3G network is plagued by poor reception indoors, largely because AWS-3 doesn’t penetrate walls very well.

Band 66 seems to be far more consistent. There were instances where I was getting better coverage indoors in downtown Toronto than I was with Fido or Bell. Other times, it was the opposite. Even when it was, reception was never terrible enough to ruin a browsing session or drop a call.

Still, there were indications coverage needs a little work. Random drops down to 4G would happen at various times, lowering the connection to 3G+ speeds.

Latency on LTE was quite low, usually between 17-21 milliseconds. Download speeds consistently topped 50Mbps, though the average was slightly lower — about 48.62Mbps — which is more than competitive compared to the Big 3. The heart of downtown Toronto skewed upwards toward 60Mbps, whereas the fringes of the current LTE coverage area could drop down to 40Mbps.

As good as it is, Bell’s network is super fast by comparison, topping 100Mbps in the same areas. Even averaged down, the final tally doubles what Freedom can deliver. However, that’s largely the case with Bell (or probably Telus, which uses the same network too). Fido, which uses Rogers’ network, fell short of Freedom in several locations. In others, it was on par or better.

One benefit of Freedom’s network compared to all others is access in Toronto’s subway stations. LTE connectivity was excellent in downtown core stations, though it doesn’t extend north of Dupont or Rosedale, east of Sherbourne or west of High Park. Freedom says it will be expanding the footprint futher in the coming months, but no firm timetable or deadline has been confirmed.

Moving forward

Freedom’s LTE network will rest on future support, which should come in greater numbers this year, but there are other features that would help. Wi-Fi Calling, which would negate any reception issues when connected to a Wi-Fi network, would make a real difference. Calls, texts and picture messages transfer over Wi-Fi under such a feature, which also works really when travelling abroad.

Freedom has only said that it is “working with phone manufacturers to include the feature as standard in mid to high-end phones” the carrier sells. VoLTE (Voice over LTE) is another feature that is reportedly coming, improving voice quality for calls.

It’s unclear how more congestion might affect Freedom’s new network, but it’s probably a good bet that performance will be similar to how competitors operate.

For now, though, it’s a pretty good start, and a far cry from the nagging issues the 3G network suffers from. With only two phones currently compatible, the most popular models have yet to jump onboard, but with more choice and a monthly cost well below the competition, Freedom may be appealing to more than a few defectors.


63 comments

  1. ttmmihok@hotmail.com'
    Maria

    If you are considering using FREEDOM Mobile DO NOT! Run the other way. Lured by the completive pricing, I switched over to them 4 months ago. BIG MISTAKE. Even in the Calgary’s “home” network where there is supposedly good coverage, data works 10% of the time and I have dropped and missed calls regularly (that don’t show up on my phone at all…does not ring, no call history) regardless of where I am (not in elevators…middle of a field…city street…no difference). I’ve called several times to trouble shoot the issues- always end up on hold or getting passed on to different departments- the problem gets fixed temporarily, if at all. I’ve spent hours on this. I’m done. I called today to cancel my account and I’ve been on the phone so far for 1 hour and 46 minutes. I just found out I have to pay $774 to do cancel my account…news to me. When I signed up I was told the new Iphone 8 I was getting would be $15/month for 24 months ($360) and could cancel anytime. Great deal. I had done some research on Freedom and was worried about the reviews I’d read about network issues and I thought, if that happens to me, I’ll pay the remaining balance, cancel my account and go elsewhere. What I found out today is that isn’t an option. The phone is only $15/month x 24 months ($360) IF AND ONLY IF you stay with this terrible company for the 24 months. I wouldn’t have an issue staying with Freedom if they actually provided a phone service that works! I can use my phone to make calls out and most of the time texting works, but data and incoming calls DO NOT work more often than they do work.So why am I paying $774? The way it was explained to me is that the phone is in fact $38.70/month for 24 months, though I was offered a promotional rate of $15/month IF AND ONLY IF I stay the length of 24 month term but if I cancel today the total amount for the phone is $38.70/month x 24months ($929 total) and since I’ve only been with the company for 4 months, the balance owing on the phone is $774! ($929 – 4 months @38.70). BRUTAL. I’m going to pay it because I’ve spent almost 2 hours on the phone again today with Freedom- AGAIN- being passed on from person to person, NONE OF WHICH WERE HELPFUL. To add insult to injury, they mistakenly added a $20/month bundle to my bill three months ago and after a long conversation offered to pay for half of THEIR mistake. Furthermore, I was told the first time I called to troubleshoot 4 months ago that I would receive a discount of $10/month for six months as a compensation for the technical issues on their end. At that time, I thought what a great company. I didn’t ask for compensation, it was offered and I thought my technical issues were fixed. Boy was I wrong. The discount was never applied to my account. When I asked about it today the rep essentially called me a liar and then put me on hold for 20 mins. When she came back she had found in the communication history that in fact the offer was made to me, but nothing was done about it. She did not acknowledge her mistake or offer an apology for essentially calling me a liar. Instead of offering me a $40 compensation ($10 x 4 months), she said she could only provide me with the same promotion, starting today, which is useless, since I am going to pay the $774 to be rid of this useless service and return to Virgin Mobile, who despite costing a bit more monthly, is a superior service on all levels. I never had issues with them. I was simply looking for a bit of a better deal. If I knew then what I know now, I never would have switched. I have been offered zero compensation for this huge waste of time and money- not from their “loyalty” department, “retention” department or “management”, despite having to repeat my story to all three of them today. DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME OR MONEY LIKE I DID. FREEDOM MOBILE is by far the worst cellular service I’ve ever dealt with on so many levels.

  2. Dreamzzpxl@gmail.com'
    Freedomhater

    Freedom is the worst mobile plan I’ve taken having Telus and bell before. I don’t think they know anything about customer care services. I’ve never felt so humiliated in my life. Suspending my account even after I’ve made my payments which happened twice. The mobile app keeps crashing and I’m not able to find out what my bill is. Even before the end of cycle they suspended my account without telling me what went wrong. And if I don’t pay the bill the same day neither your calls, messages nor data works. Also charged me more for what I’ve not used. Disaster!! Please stay away from freedom. Even if you have to pay a little more join other plans that makes you feel important and respect you.

  3. sasaki232@hotmail.com'
    sasaki

    Freedom is absolute disaster. Customer service was very bad to deal with and no experience what so ever.

    Never again, I have learned my lesson.

  4. shaunmckinley78@gmail.com'
    Shaun

    I just switched to Freedom Mobile yesterday from Bell. The coverage is supposed to be ‘Home’ from GTA to Barrie, I still have no Internet connection. I’m switching back to Bell. Looking at these comments helped reassure me that I’m making the right decision. Good bye Freedom Mobile, Bell please take me back

  5. b.artur7512@gmail.com'
    Art

    I purchased Galaxy S8 with freedom 2 months ago and service it’s just garbage I tried to listen to Internet radio which doesn’t take much data it’s just impossible it was one of my worst decisions to switch

  6. sappi521@gmail.com'
    Sally

    I purchased my phone (Sony Xperia Ultra) in October 2017, I began to experience technical problems and connection problems 2 weeks after I bought the phone. I have taken the phone in twice already since I bought October. I do not think this is acceptable as Freedom cannot identify the actual problem. I was told by Freedom agent that it is the common problem with the phone. If this is the case, how come Freedom MOBILE continues to sell the phones without alerting their customers? I have been with Wind mobile and Freedom for over six years and as a loyal customer, I find freedom not taking the best interest of their clients.

  7. Lgg2ab@gmail.com'
    Andrew Black

    I been with WIND now Freedom for 5 years. The data/internet is the worse it’s ever been. I’m in the general downtown Vancouver area. I am paying more than ever for their service as well. I So do the math… Most expensive plan to date with the worst service!

  8. dralikiziltas@hotmail.com'
    ALI

    Freedom mobile’s customer service is the worst one I had ever have. Do not even pass in front of their shop!!

  9. dannyx5321@yahoo.com'
    Daniel

    I have been with Wind/Freedom for at least 4 years and in the past year it got worse and worse and worse…
    Funny how this happened right after Shaw took over Wind. From my understanding is that the problem is not only poor cell tower coverage but their choice of network protocol, HSPA/WSA which apparently doesn’t penetrate walls very well, hence poor reception indoors.

    Needless to say I will be switching very soon, will try Fido at first and see how it goes. So long Wind, it was sweet while it lasted.

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