What is the best internet service provider (ISP) in Canada?
Disclaimer: We are not affiliated in any way with TekSavvy nor have we received any benefit from them for writing this article. All trademarks are the properties of their respective owners.
We usually have to do a lot of research for our articles, but this was an easy one. In our opinion, the best national ISP for most Canadians is TekSavvy. If you are currently with Bell, Rogers, Videotron, Cogeco, Shaw, MTS Allstream, etc. (the “Incumbents”), you should consider switching to High Speed Cable at TekSavvy. TekSavvy has been operating for over 14 years and it’s headquartered in Chatham, Ontario. At first, it was mostly geeks that signed up, but word has apparently spread because it now has over 180,000 customers (source). It is by no means as large as Bell or Rogers, but it is arguably the leading independent internet service provider in Canada.
What makes TekSavvy so special?
TekSavvy isn’t the cheapest internet service provider in Canada nor do they offer the fastest internet connection speeds, but it is the only ISP that we recommend. If you’re thinking about signing up with the cheapest internet service providers, you’re going to have a bad time. If you want the fastest internet connection in the country, it’s going to be awfully expensive (probably the same cost as leasing a small car) and you will still have a relatively small monthly bandwidth cap. In our opinion, TekSavvy strikes perfect balance between price, speed, support and features. For an example of wrong balance, Rogers is beta testing its Ultimate Fibre Internet in Toronto which has a maximum download speed of 250Mbps and a 500GB/month cap (no price has been announced yet). How long do you think that it would take for such a connection to reach its monthly 500GB cap at maximum speed? The answer is 4 hours and 36 minutes. The only people that would be interested in such a fast connection would be the people that download a lot. You wouldn’t get such a connection to watch cat youtube videos or to write and read email. Overall, we think that such an internet service package is pointless.
What are the top reasons why you should switch to TekSavvy?
We were going to write it out in paragraphs, but there were too many points. So we’re going to do this in point form if you don’t mind.
- They offer unlimited and high cap cable internet packages at reasonable rates source
It’s rare for us to say positive things about an internet service provider, but TekSavvy appears to be an ethical company that actually cares about its customers *gasp*. We have used over a dozen internet service providers over the years from as far as Vancouver, to Montreal and to Toronto and we know how hard it is to find a decent ISP. Trying to find a decent internet service provider is like trying to find a decent mechanic. They’re supposedly out there, but they’re elusive. What kind of company is TekSavvy? This is how we pictured TekSavvy being started. We imagined a couple of university friends having a few beers at a bar where they’ve been sharing horror stories trying to connect (but unsuccessfully) to their ISP with their 56K baud modems. One of the friends has an epiphany, stands up and says “Why don’t we start our own ISP that doesn’t suck? An ISP that actually cares about its customers!”. If you fast forward 14 years, what you get today is TekSavvy.
We’ve been trying to think of faults in their policies or past actions in order to balance this article, but we couldn’t come up with anything. As with all large corporations, We are sure that there are some disgruntled users. Some may have had bad experiences with long tech support wait times or some may have suffered network outages. All that we can say is that having some problems here and there are unavoidable. We think that what defines a great company is how management reacts to the problems and we believe that TekSavvy is doing everything that they can to correct and reduce the occurrence of those issues.
Okay, you wore me down and convinced me. Which internet package do you recommend?
We recommend TekSavvy’s Cable 28 package for $46.95/month which includes 300GB per month. It’s one of the more expensive packages at TekSavvy, but it’s also the best value as far as cost per Mbps is concerned (please see the below table). With the Cable 28 package, it’s costing you $1.68 per Mbps, while with the Cable 18 package, you save $7, but the internet connection speed almost drops in half and the cost per Mbps increases to $2.22 per Mbps. If you look at it this way, the faster the cable package you get, the more internet speed you get per dollar. If Cable 28 is too expensive for you, we suggest TekSavvy’s Cable 18 for $39.95/month which also includes 300GB usage per month. We don’t recommend anything slower than Cable 18 as you’ll pay a little bit less, but the internet connection speed will drop very quickly.
Is it available in my area?
Fill out their online form here to confirm if the service is available in your neighborhood.
How much can I download per month?
In theory, with the Cable 18 or 28 package, you are allowed to download 300GB per month and you will be charged $0.50 per extra GB (same rate for all non unlimited packages) up to a maximum of $25/month (very reasonable compared to Bell’s $80 maximum or Rogers’ $100 maximum). TekSavvy implemented a two-month rolling average in February 2012, therefore if you downloaded 400GB on month 1 and 100GB on month 2, you’ve downloaded 500GB in 2 months. Therefore, the 2 month average is less than 600GB–the 2 month allotment. You’re fine. However, if you downloaded 600GB in month 3, you’ve now downloaded 700GB in the last 2 months (therefore, you’re now over the 600GB allotment for the last 2 months). If you go over the 2 month allotment, at their discretion, they may upgrade you up to the unlimited plan (for Cable 28 it’s $61.95 and for Cable 18 it’s $54.95) source.
In practice, they don’t really enforce the bandwidth caps as it’s based on the honor system (at least in Ontario). TekSavvy receives monthly reports on bandwidth usage from the cable companies, but there’s no web tool for the user to monitor their usage (at least in Ontario). Therefore, they tend not to charge users overage fees. source, source, source, If you’re in Quebec, you can check your bandwidth usage here, but you have to call TekSavvy to get your VL number, source. The general consensus is that TekSavvy is very generous when it comes to not enforcing the rules, but DON’T abuse them. That’s why we can’t have nice things.
What about upload speeds?
Starting from TekSavvy Express 14, you get 1 Mbps upstream. The upstream speed for the lower packages vary from 256Kbps to 800 Kbps. You may think that a fast upstream is not important, but if you ever upload high resolution photos to Flickr or Facebook, it will make a difference.
What kind of cable modem should I buy? DOCSIS 2.0 or DOCSIS 3.0?
TekSavvy doesn’t rent modems, so you’re going to have to buy a cable modem. It’s more cost effective in the long run for the consumer anyways. There are 2 main types of cable modems. DOCSIS 2.0 cable modems and DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems. DOCSIS stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification which is a standardized technology that makes cable internet possible. TekSavvy recommends a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem if you plan on using Cable 18 today or faster or planning on doing so the foreseeable future and DOCSIS 2.0 cable modems for the slower packages. In theory, both standards support 38Mbps, but DOCSIS 3.0 supports multiple channels which increases overall speeds. Therefore, we recommend a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem for all users because 1) it’s not that much more expensive, 2) even if you won’t be getting an internet package that uses +18Mbps today, someday you may or you may get a free upgrade down the line, 3) DOCSIS 2.0 is +10 year old technology. There is zero benefit to buying a DOCSIS 2.0 modem except to save a few bucks. You will likely spend a bit more money today, but you will “future proof” your internet connection. There’s no telling how fast internet connections will get in a few years. Rogers is already testing a 250Mbps connection in Toronto and Moncton. DOCSIS 2.0 is a relic. Do yourself a favor and buy a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem.
How is DOCSIS 3.0 different than DOCSIS 2.0?
We’re still pining for a DOCSIS 3.1 modem, but it looks like if we’re going to have to wait till 2015. You can read more about DOCSIS 3.1 here on Cisco’s blog. Pretty exciting stuff! If you would like more information on DOCSIS 2.0 and 3.0, you can read this article entitled “Know Your DOCSIS: Get Up To Speed!”
Below is a list of the approved TekSavvy cables modems.
TekSavvy approved DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems
Motorola SB6120 – 126.96.36.199
TekSavvy approved DOCSIS 2.0 cable modems
RCA 245 running ST23.16.50
I’m going to disregard the DOCSIS 2.0 modems entirely and focus on the DOCSIS 3.0 modems. Which one to buy? Just by reputation alone, my choices are instantly narrowed to Motorola, SMC and Thomson cable modems. We have friends with the SMC and Thomson modems and they’re happy with them, but Motorola cable modems are the gold standard. It’s what all cable modems are compared against. Therefore, unless they are out of stock. We suggest that users buy a Motorola cable modem.
What’s the difference between Motorola SB6120 and SB6121?
If you’re interested, you can read this, this, this and this for technical explanations. SB6121 is the successor to SB6120 and it’s ever so slightly superior as you may get increased speed during peak congestion times, but they are essentially the same in most regards. Therefore, we recommend the SB6121 if it’s available. It is currently for sale at newegg.ca for $99.99 +$5 shipping, but you should enquire first if TekSavvy has it in stock since you get a $20 discount on the activation fee if you buy a modem from them. At the time of this writing, TekSavvy is only selling the Technicolor DMC475. You can read reviews of the SB6121 here (+250 reviews) and here (+900 reviews). The reviews are very positive. Don’t forget that when you buy Motorola products, you’re also supporting Google. We’re big Google fans around here.
Should I buy a used cable modem?
Uhh, we don’t recommend it. It’s possible that the cable modem may have been blacklisted for abuse, default of payment, etc. Therefore, we would recommend against buying a used cable modem from eBay, Craigslist or Kijiji. The safest bet is to buy it directly from TekSavvy or brand new in box from a reputable retailer, such as newegg.ca. (source). If you are not buying a cable modem from TekSavvy, you will need to call TekSavvy to let them know what the MAC address is on your cable modem.
How do I sign up?
You can fill out their online form and they’ll call you back, but we suggest that you just call them since you probably have some questions to ask them anyways. This is how we would sign up with TekSavvy.
1) The first thing that we would do is to fill out this form here to confirm that high speed cable internet is available in our area
What about DSL?
TekSavvy also offers DSL, but if Cable internet is available in your available, just get high speed cable internet. Users have reported various issues with DSL at TekSavvy, source, source, source (which may or may not be resolved now). Even if DSL works perfectly, there’s no real reason to choose it over cable internet as it’s faster and more reliable. We recommend that you cancel your bell phone line, get TekSavvy Cable internet and setup a lifetime free VOIP line using our guide here.
You don’t need to take our word for it. Read the forums. There are thousands upon thousands of posts regarding people’s experiences with TekSavvy
Official TekSavvy forums [new since August 2012, +4,000 posts]
DSL Reports [too many posts to estimate]
Redflagdeals [+4,000 posts]
Better Business Bureau (TekSavvy is not BBB accredited, but they received a grade of A+)
TekSavvy is not perfect, but in this sort of industry, we think that they’re as good as you can reasonably expect. We’ve recommended TekSavvy to countless friends and family over the years and they’ve all been thankful.If you’re looking for a new ISP, you should seriously consider them. Read up the forums and post questions. Do some research before you make the plunge so that you can make an informed decision.
We wished that TekSavvy offered Cable Internet for businesses, but none of the independents do. We guess that there must be some sort of technological, contractual or regulatory roadblock. Business DSL is relative slow, expensive and you need an active phone line (or dry loop). What is this? 1999? High speed cable internet for businesses please.
Finally, if for some reason, you don’t want to subscribe to TekSavvy, you can research the pricing and features of other independent internet service providers at www.canadianisp.ca. There are a few other good choices. We’ve heard positive things about www.electronicbox.net, but it’s DSL only and it’s only available in Quebec and Ontario.