Revisiting Fonus 6 Months In
Earlier last year I wrote an in-depth review of Fonus Mobile, after having been given early access to the new mobile service reseller. I figured it was time to check back in on how the experience has been, and what's changed since I first reviewed it last year.
A New SIM
Not long after I wrote my previous review, my SIM card was replaced with a newer model. It looked identical to the previous and also worked identically. My understanding is on the backend it went from being supplied by a single account with many lines for the initial distribution to a unique account. Shortly after receiving my new SIM, I was able to access a full-service dashboard for my account.
This dashboard is noticeably the same as UNREAL Mobile's dashboard, with a different theme applied. This makes sense, both use the zoomMediaPlus network enabler. This dashboard also marked the first time I was able to select a mobile phone number and see my mobile data usage. (653MB this month. COVID means I'm not going far afield).
Along with a new SIM and a new dashboard, came a new mobile app. The app installs the proper APN for the mobile network automatically and can also make and receive calls. This app with VOIP support should allow using Canadian numbers in the near future as well, although my understanding is the device itself would still run with a US-based mobile number due to the arrangement with zoomMediaPlus.
Performance and Usage
While being a Fonus customer, I experienced only one major outage. It occurred in August where the network went down for about 12 hours. This would have been still on the previous SIM, and I suspect it was due to instability caused by the previous system of having one reseller account owning all the lines. I've experienced no outages on the new SIM since then.
I was able to take Fonus on a bit of a journey (as much as one can) when I travelled to my neighboring province of Alberta last year. I was able to maintain good coverage along major routes, and the service switched between Rogers and Telus (and rarely Bell) smoothly. I compared it directly against Freedom Mobile's national roaming coverage as well as a corporate AT&T data plan. All of them were effectively indistinguishable in normal use.
Freedom had a small benefit in that I could over-ride the default network selection in some areas when a slow-but-closer tower would capture the attention of the other two. I would love to see the ability to select networks manually be available on Fonus, even if it's only a minor convenience. The other downside to Fonus not present in the other two was a lack of tethering. My AT&T plan had a tethering pool (5 GB) and my Freedom plan allowed tethering of all data. This lack was especially noticeable when staying in a hotel with a 128 kbps Wi-Fi connection.
I was also able to compare the voice quality between Fonus and Freedom, and found Freedom was noticeably clearer when on the Freedom network. I suspect this is due to their VoLTE offering, even though I don't see a clear indicator of if it's using VoLTE or not when making calls on my iPhone 11 Pro. This difference vanished when Freedom was roaming, and at that point, the quality was the same.
Lastly, in December I was able to test the SIM while in Seattle and compare its performance natively in the home provider region. Unsurprisingly, while in the US it stayed doggedly on AT&T, and I never saw roaming on other networks, even in areas where T-Mobile would have had better coverage. When in Seattle proper, "5Ge" appeared as the network type. This is really LTE Advanced and not any type of 5G, but it does show that Fonus gets top AT&T speeds in the region. Indeed, I was able to get over 100 Mbps of transfer speed at times. Switching from the US to Canada was also seamless.
Overall, this experience is very compelling for a $30 / month plan. Would I recommend Fonus after using it for 6 months? Yes, it has performed solidly and the level of support and professionalism has noticeably improved. Given how reliable it's been I really don't have anything I can raise as a complaint. If you're comfortable buying your own phone and setting it up, Fonus is a good carrier to consider. Local number support should arrive soon (the option already is appearing on the Fonus app's setting page) and I suspect that will be the last barrier to widespread adoption.