Wireless carriers struggle to keep up after weekend price-cutting promotion

Wireless

Canada's major wireless carriers are apologizing for long customer service wait times as consumers scramble to cash in on limited time promotional offers.

While the holiday season is always competitive for the telecom companies, a low-rate plan offered by Shaw's Freedom Mobile and a recent update of Canada's code of conduct for wireless carriers are among the drivers spurring a flurry of special promotions this year.

"This doesn't happen every year," independent technology analyst Carmi Levi said from his base in London, Ont. of the new Wireless Code that came into effect on Dec.1.

One of the major changes prevents carriers from charging to unlock phones so they can work on another network.

Rogers, Fido, Kodoo, Bell and Virgin are advertising 10 gigabytes of data for $60 per month, with certain conditions and a planned expiry within the next few days.

The promotions also appear to be a response to a pricing initiative announced in October by Shaw's Freedom Mobile, which is offering 10GB for $50.

A flurry of interested Canadians scrambling to get the deals before they expire has led to a customer service bottleneck at the telecoms.

Numerous Facebook, Twitter and chat room commenters reported two- to three-hour wait times for call centres and online chats.

Rogers issued a media statement that said that, in most cases, the weekend promotional offer would expire for new customers on Monday but would be honoured for existing customers until Tuesday. The exception, it said, would be a Fido bring-your-own-phone offer that would go until end of day Tuesday in Ontario.

"We've seen tremendous response from Canadians and thank everyone for their patience and apologize for any wait," the Rogers statement said.

A Bell Canada spokesman said by email that Bell Mobility and its Virgin service were currently offering a 10 gigabyes for $60, in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, when the customer supplies the phone.

Meanwhile, Koodo – another Telus service – posted a friendly warning on its website.

"Heads up! Due to the high number of holiday orders, your phone may take up to 10 business days to be processed. Sit tight! We're working as fast as we can."

An email from the Telus customer service teal told one frustrated customer that staffing levels are forecast based on data from the previous five years, but that a "variety of factors have led to a backlog of calls, chats and emails which we are working diligently to address."

Telus said it has hired additional staff to help manage the load.