Three Pieces of Good News for Cell Phone Users

Telecommunications is a fast-paced field, where major developments can pass under the radar because they’re hard to find past all the noise of new cell phone models, smartphone apps and corporate telecom acquisitions. Here are three pieces of news that translate directly into more savings and convenience for customers – things that factor into both regular consumer budgets and formal telecom expense management.

FCC Tightens Landline Cellular and VoIP Porting Rules

On May 15, 2009 the FCC ruled that service providers have to port US customers on mobile, VoIP and some landline services within one day instead of the four currently mandated. This new requirement will come into effect by next May. The new rules exempt a few small carriers but if you have a large carrier, in 2010 you should be able to switch carriers in a single business day. In related news, the FCC has also decided to crack down VoIP providers who unexpectedly drop or modify services be requiring notification.

Solar Powered Phones Coming

Manufacturers Sharp and Japan’s KDDI have started a joint venture with the goal of releasing a phone that provides one minute of talk for every ten minutes of charge time or two hours of standby time. It’s a modest goal but an excellent start that matches similar announcements by Samsung and LG. Although currently marketed as “sport” or “green” phones, they’re sure to increase in demand for two reasons. First, green-energy advocates have made us aware that chargers consume power even when they aren’t hooked up to phones. Second, people lose chargers so often that in many organizations this becomes an unnoticed but persistent expense. Lose the need for a charger, and lose the cost.

The iPhone Ups the Ante on Smartphone Development

The Palm Pre (in the link above) is one example of an upcoming smartphone that wouldn’t exist without the iPhone. So even if you never own one, iPhones are making your phones better through bigger screens, better screen resolution and revolutions in interfaces, applications and use of 3G networks. It’s been a bumpy ride, of course, with one notable example being AT&T’s ban of the Slingplayer streaming application from its 3G network. In spite of these setbacks, we should look forward to iPhone-driven competition spawning better, more cost-effective phones than ever before.

Ontario Drivers Now Require Headsets for Car Phone Use – Mobile Fleets Need Headset Procurement

On April 22nd, 2009 Ontario’s Bill 118 passed into law. The bill requires drivers to use cell phones using hands free methods such as Bluetooth headsets. If you try to use your phone in one hand while driving you can face a $500 fine. If you cause an accident in the process, using your phone will be considered to be evidence against you in careless driving prosecutions.

The law doesn’t just apply to cell phones, but using any handheld device with a display screen in any context but hands free use. This includes iPods and many GPS devices. You can still use these if they’re in hands free mode, but even holding them without actively using them can get you in trouble.

Bill 118 follows a trend in several jurisdictions to crack down on distracting mobile device use. This may improve road safety but for many businesses, the whole point of a cellular phone fleet is to enable use on the road. As a result, companies that need this capability must upgrade to hands free tools like headsets, and cell phone plans that permit easy hands free use.

This is a definite cellular expense management issue. Your price per headset and modified plans could add a substantial amount to your costs unless you use a telecom expense management provider with expertise in both cell phone plans and cellular hardware procurement. Fortunately for us at GILL Technologies, we have always maintained a strong emphasis on both plans and hardware, so we’re able to outfit our clients’ employees with a complete hands free solution at reduced costs. Telecom cost audits aren’t just about plans – they’re about the total cost to use your handsets.

Even if you don’t live in Ontario you should consider upgrading your mobile fleet to hands free use. More and more jurisdictions in the US, Canada and beyond are passing similar laws, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that in the near future, laws like this will be the rule almost everywhere. Besides, these laws get passed for a reason: Hands free use on the road really is safer, and we encourage everyone to consider the option.

GILL Technologies Ready to Help Businesses Conform to New Ontario Cellular Laws

Telecom Consultants Ready after Bill 118 Makes Hands-Free Cell Phone Use Mandatory in Automobiles

Peterborough, ON, Canada: GILL Technologies (http://www.gill-technologies.com) announced that it has prepared the hardware and telecom expense management expertise to help businesses with mobile phone fleets conform to the Ontario Government’s Bill 118. The law makes it punishable by fine to hand operate cell phones and other electronic devices with screens while operating a motor vehicle. Hands free use is permitted however, which puts many businesses in the position of having to acquire headsets and voice activated functionality for employees who routinely communicate by cell phone while driving.

The Peterborough, Ontario and Tampa, Florida based telecommunications consulting company was prepared for the bill’s passage on April 22, 2009 before then, had already performed a preliminary analysis of how companies that needed to conform to the law would be affected. GILL Technologies predicts an upsurge in demand for Bluetooth headsets and rich voice activated features delivered through a combination of hardware and cellular services. Canada’s transition to 3G smartphones requires that voice activated features not only encompass traditional telephony, but the ability to browse email. The company has also made arrangements with select suppliers to provide Bluetooth headsets at a considerable cost savings.

“Corporate cellular customers outside of Ontario should understand that the growing trend to ban handheld use while driving is likely to affect them as well,” said GILL Technologies president George Gill. “We not only urge people with mobile fleets in Ontario to upgrade to hands free use, but advise that companies everywhere that expect communications on the road do the same. It’s not only forward looking, but safer – that’s why the law came into effect in the first place.”

Interested parties can request a free initial cost analysis from GILL Technologies by visiting http://www.gill-technologies.com, emailing info@gill-technologies.com or calling 877-507-6988 toll-free. GILL Technologies accepts clients from across Canada and the United States.

About GILL Technologies

Established in 2000, GILL Technologies provides a “Total Communication Solution” for businesses of all sizes. Clients range from small businesses simply looking to save on their communications costs to large enterprises that want comprehensive solutions. Over 3000 clients across North America bear witness to the effectiveness of GILL Technologies’ products and services.Find out more about GILL Technologies’ communications services through its no-risk, money saving Cost Auditing service at http://www.gill-technologies.com/CostAudit.php

Five Problems to Control with Telecom Expense Management

How does telecom expense management save you money? Any fleet of phones can accumulate cost inefficiencies. Some of these happen because of the way carriers bill customers. Others stem from making less than optimal choices about cell phone plans, long distance billing and other telecom services. Here are five common issues that a professional telecom cost audit and expense management program can remedy. Â

Billing Errors: Analysts estimate that billing errors alone can add 6%, 8% or more to your communications costs. These errors are hard to detect; it takes an expert to tell whether many fees have been legitimately added or properly calculated. GILL Technologies performs a thorough examination of your company’s billing as part of your initial audit, and stays on top of your bills to head of future errors.

Excess Minutes and Data: Our Tele-Watch communications management software is an important tool to show you exactly what your needs are. In many cases, people opt for attractive looking plans that offer a large amount of voice minutes or data, but when they fail to use them, these plans end up making their bills larger than they would have been if they’d picked a plan that represented their true usage. We can help you discover what your real communications needs are and adapt your choice of plan and carrier to match.

Hardware Costs: Is the plan that subsidizes your hardware costs really saving you money? What’s the right smartphone for you? What are the advantages of buying a cell phone outright? Where can you get inexpensive headsets? We can answer all these questions so that you only purchase the most cost-effective hardware. Our telecom customer service and procurement team will not only help you pick a solution, but can order the hardware on your behalf, often with a significant savings thanks to preferred relationships with select suppliers in North America.

Inappropriate Usage: Tele-Watch doesn’t just help you understand your company’s needs, but lets you see exactly how much every department and individual in your business uses company resources. When your employees know that you have this information it deters inappropriate usage, and when you need to act, you have all the data to define the issue in dollars and cents. Doing it this way is the path to responsible management that minimizes confrontation.

Roaming Fees: When you leave your carrier’s coverage area do you have reasonable roaming fees? Do you have a choice? If you’re a heavy roaming user we can help you find a carrier that offers the best prices for the areas you expect to visit. Furthermore, our telecom customer service team can help guide you when you visit Europe or another part of the world with different telecom standards. You’ll be able to go virtually anywhere without losing contact.

Blackberry Takes Competition up a Notch with the App World

Blackberry opened its App World on April 1st, 2009, taking a leap into the kinds of personalized smartphone applications made popular by Apple’s iPhone. Now that competitors are rolling out touchscreen phones and people aren’t as dazzled by the style and technology, Apps are easily the most popular aspect of the iPhone. On the other hand, iPhone Apps tend to be more recreational than practical, in keeping with the phone’s popular image as a high tech toy. Blackberries have always been more business oriented. Will the App World reflect this?

Looking at App World’s featured Apps it looks like the initial rollout is designed to make new Blackberries full-featured internet devices. There are Apps for Facebook, AIM, Windows Live Messenger – all core internet applications. There are also news and entertainment media applications and even a few games, though these have a more serious focus than Apple counterparts. They’re the kinds of things that an executive wouldn’t mind being seen using during a break. They include business news, stress management games and tools to simplify travel.

The Blackberry’s serious image helps make it the first choice for enterprise-level smartphone procurement, and Research in Motion certainly little motive to change this, but there’s always the temptation of the wider consumer market, which models like the Curve have been steadily courting. Success will probably be found somewhere in between consumer fun and business utility because of the way people use company smartphones. The barriers between personal and business use are steadily eroding, as managers want employees to be constantly available, and employees want to use the phones they’re supposed to carry at all times for personal use.

For businesses though, the Blackberry still has one advantage: carrier flexibility. iPhones are wedded to exclusive plans in both Canada and the US, but every major carrier offers the Blackberry. This makes cellular expense management far more effective for the Blackberry. We can compare plans from multiple carriers using several metrics and find the best option for you – and with the App World, your on-call employees can get a few morale building applications, while you maintain total knowledge of their usage through our Tele-Watch Communications management software. They’re happier and you save money.

Rogers’ New CEO Symbolizes the Power of Wireless

Ending persistent speculation about whether it would be him or the late Ted Rogers’ son, Edward, Nadir Mohamed officially took over as CEO of Rogers Communications on March 31st, 2009. Mr. Mohamed isn’t a well-known figure to the public at large, but people in the telecommunications industry know him well. From 2000 to 2005, he led Rogers Wireless, taking it from an annual loss of $36 million to a steady increase in profit, to the point where Rogers Wireless now reports net earnings of over $1 billion a year.

You can debate how much of this was the result of Rogers’ (and Mohamed’s) ingenuity versus how much was pure market penetration but either way you look at it, the results are clear: Wireless has evolved from a troubled acquisition into perhaps the single most influential division of the entire corporation. This trend is mirrored in other companies. BCE CEO George Cope took the helm in 2008 after coming into the industry via Clearnet and Telus. Wireless experience is obviously one of the central prerequisites to seizing the helm of any communications company.

What does this mean for the average Canadian wireless consumer? The man in charge of Rogers is one of the architects of the Canadian cellular industry – both the good and bad parts. Under Nadir Mohamed, Rogers committed to the 3G technology that positioned it to be Canada’s exclusive iPhone carrier, but it’s also a fact that under his watch, Rogers Wireless developed a strategy based on expensive cell phone plans known for particularly conservative caps on data usage. Indeed, analysts have predicted a “stay the course” strategy, where Rogers continues to command premium prices for its exclusive products and services while expanding its capabilities to keep a distinct niche.

Will this policy stand up to future stresses? The recession and the results of the Advanced Wireless Spectrum (AWS) auction will test Mr. Mohammed’s and Rogers’ position. If the former is the “short, sharp shock” that Canada’s government projects, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. On the other hand, new players powered by AWS acquisitions will have to compete with Rogers’ niche brands like Fido, but Rogers will have to deal with a customer base that it has alienated in several high profile incidents, such as its infamous iPhone rollout. New players in the industry will at least offer more choice, and that provides more opportunities for savings. So even if Rogers won’t change the policies that make it one of Canada’s pricier carriers, the future looks good for telecom expense management outcomes.

Google Voice: What Does It Mean for Telecom Expense Management?

Google Voice is one of the most exciting new developments in telecommunications services. Google has had a mixed record when it comes to entering the telecom market, but there’s no debate that it very much wants to be a part of that industry. Unfortunately for the company, it has only enjoyed mixed reception to its initiatives. Google 411 isn’t exactly the go-to for directory assistance. Google Android is an interesting development, but the attached phones haven’t overtaken the popularity juggernauts of the Blackberry and iPhone.Â

Google Voice is different. It doesn’t rely on any particular carrier and its services are free. The base technology seems to be former company Grand Central’s VoIP number forwarding service, which Google acquired in 2007. Users can receive calls at a specified phone whenever they get calls at a number assigned by the service. Google Voice is a significant expansion beyond voice forwarding, however. Features include web-based voicemail access, automatic transcription, conference calls, free VoIP calls, SMS functions and more. How will this affect telecom expense management?

All in all, it’s a formidable set of features that, if integrated into the right cell phone plan, promises to add numerous functions that might incur a significant cost if their equivalents were purchased from a provider. Will this actually translate to savings? It depends on how user friendly Google Voice is, and how well it fits users’ working needs. If you’re looking to save on company mobile expenses with Google Voice, you’ll want to try it out for personal calls first. Ask yourself whether Voice can support any part of your workflow that is currently occupied by pay services. Once you’ve figured that out you’ll know what you need in terms of pay services. After that, lowering your costs is a cellular expense management issue.Â

Unfortunately, as of the time of writing (March 13, 2009) Google Voice is only available to US customers – right now, former Grand Central users, though Google promises to make it generally available in a matter of weeks. If it takes off, it may not only offer a whole range of free “toys” for consumers, but might exert pressure on telecom service providers to change their offerings. If enough people know about it, you can’t charge for something Google’s giving away for free.

Bell Mobility Tries to Turn the Screws on Twitter Users

Canada’s cellular oligopoly strikes again! (For those of you new to the word, an oligopoly is like a monopoly, but split between a few big players.) Twitter is the hottest single social networking application online right now. It lets users post 140 character messages – “tweets” – to the web, and read aggregates of other people’s tweets.

Twitter was designed for mobile users from the start; it accepts SMS content. You can tweet something from your phone and read it from your browser when you get home, or read an SMS version of something somebody else tweets you from the Web. It’s a very handy tool for anyone who wants to send messages across platforms, particularly if they have an unlimited texting plan – but not if they have a Canadian cell phone plan.

Twitter and Canadian providers don’t mix, it seems. First, Twitter cut Canadian SMS users off because receiving their texts was just too expensive. Then Bell and Twitter announced that they’d come to an agreement, where Bell users could once again SMS to and from Twitter.

Ah, but there was a catch.

By February 25th 2009, Bell decided that as a “premium service” Twitter SMS feeds aren’t covered by unlimited texting plans. That means that sending a tweet costs 15 cents. That’s bad. Furthermore, receiving each tweet also costs 15 cents. Considering that popular Twitter users can get dozens of messages in an hour, you’d be looking at huge charges.

Fortunately, there was such a huge outcry at this blatant cash grab (and probably some irritation on Twitter’s part, as they naturally want to reduce barriers to using the service) that two days later, Bell reversed its position.

Between this, charges on receiving text messages and iPhone plan price hikes, we have plenty of answers when people ask us: “Why should I choose telecom expense management instead of dealing with telecom companies myself?” Situations like this and charges for incoming texts show that providers will grab extra revenue any way they can – and you can’t always rely on an angry mob to fix things.

The Recession Slows Competition in the Canadian Wireless Market – Cellular Expense Management is More Important than Ever

Last October, Shaw Communications announced that it wouldn’t be furthering investment in wireless services. Shaw was a major bidder in last year’s AWS Spectrum auction. The CRTC sold off bandwidth across Canada, and every major communications company and several new entrants bought in. Shaw spent just under $190 million in the action: a formidable number, though not as impressive as Rogers bids totaling almost $1 billion. Shaw was poised to make some significant inroads, but that’s come to a halt as the recession has dampened new ventures.

Despite Shaw’s rights over 20 MHz from BC to Manitoba (though only 10 in Saskatchewan) the company said that due to uncertain times ahead, it wouldn’t be rolling out what was no doubt planned: an aggressive entry into Western Canada’s wireless market. Like many smaller players, Shaw is probably incapable of carrying debts to cover the initial rollout. According to Wireless Week telecom investment analyst Imari Love tentatively estimates that many smaller enterprises will push their plans back to 2010 or 2011.

Meanwhile, it looks like budget consumer brands like Koodo (Telus) and Fido (Rogers) are set to make major inroads – a situation that makes sense, given that most Canadians will be looking for bargain cell phone plans as their household income feels the recession squeezing their pocketbooks. In general, pay as you go services will probably see a boost from consumers who feel less secure in their ability to make regular payments.

Unfortunately, these growth sectors have little to offer businesses, whose complex service and billing needs can’t be served by budget providers. In these cases it looks like the recession will work against them, as major providers look for more revenue. Now that the expected competition will be delayed by at least a year, telecom expense management solutions should be seen as a practically mandatory step to save money in the face of expected fee increases. Key areas for consideration will be billing errors and contract analysis to fend off unreasonable cost increases.

Cost Reduction for the Blackberry: Three Tips

One of the critical issues facing many companies is how to control costs on Blackberries and other smartphones. The basic dilemma arises when you need employees to be able to get business email at unpredictable times and places. Employees in turn want to be able to use it for personal calls and email. This makes sense; after all, why would they want to carry two phones?

Unfortunately, if the device is on your company’s tab you can incur unreasonable costs when an employee overuses the Blackberry for personal email. You may similarly face excessive charges for personal voice and data as employees browse the web and make personal calls. Employees often view personal use as an implicit perk – the upside of being constantly available for work communications.

How do you strike a balance between personal use and business expenses? The most practical solution is to keep your Blackberry fleet on a sensible telecom expense management plan, and use communications management software to track individual expenses. The key to a good plan is to understand what your business needs are, what employee usage is, and how the former relates to the latter. It’s good for moral to allow use and in any event, it’s so reflexive to reach for the phone on hand that it will save confusion to allow mixed use (though there are exceptions, such as high-security fields). Here are three basic cost reduction principles that make things easy for both staff and management:

Unlimited Plans for Mixed Use Functions: One of the first things you should do is identify smartphone functions that have both business and personal applications. When you pick a plan, these are the areas where you want to pay for high capacity. For the Blackberry, that means voice and email. Some companies also need employees to browse the web on the job, but this is usually less common.

Block Unnecessary Functions: Many enterprise plans are designed for relatively freewheeling executive use, but it’s more and more common for smartphones to be front line employee tools. This means that usage costs are not only multiplied by a larger number of users, but that usage policy reflects on your company as a whole. You should set down a personal use policy relatively early. Check against actual activity and employee feedback to see if it needs to be changed. If there’s no justification for certain functions, block them. Web browsing is one of the most common things that companies limit, since modern, rich content browsing can be an incredible data hog.

Keep Employees Informed – and Keep Informed: Once you have a plan, develop a policy and block unnecessary functions, keep your employees in the loop! The last thing you want to do is end up having an unpleasant confrontation because you didn’t make company policy clear. You in turn should monitor usage scrupulously. Identify heavy users and keep in touch with them. This serves as a friendly reminder that the Blackberry or other smartphone fleet is for responsible use, and heads off lax behaviour and possible disciplinary action down the road.