Why Offer a Communication Management Free Trial?

Why has a communications management firm that has offered telecom solutions for a decade decided to offer its proprietary management software on a free trial? It’s hard for me to write the answer without sounding like an advertisement, especially since as I write the reasons, it sounds like an ad to me – but that’s not the case. It all has to do with the evolving business climate in the US and Canada. We’ve adapted to it and want to help other firms do the same.

North American business has changed over the last year. At GILL Technologies, we’ve been very fortunate to have a loyal client base. Over the years, we’ve changed to respond to its requests for additional features and services and to keep GILL Technologies focused on best practices. In fact, what began as a cost audit company some 10 years ago has developed into much more. For example,  ClientCare (a component of our service) has become one of our most sought after services. Today, it’s one of the pillars of our business even though it really has little to do with the concept of cost auditing. By listening to our clients we discovered the value in being able to be their single point of contact for a technical support and services.

Tele-Watch evolved in much the same way. Companies need better control over their communications, period; most businesses will openly admit this. One crucial step to improve control is by acquiring timely, superior access to usage and spending information. This visibility gets crucial data to the right people in a timely fashion (not six months later). It drives accountability through the organization, because they know the nature of on what may be the largest business expense they face, as communications is quickly becoming one of the largest expenses possible for any company.

GILL Technologies responded with Tele-Watch: a proprietary software application hosted on the cloud and available from any web enabled device on a secure platform. Tele-Watch is absolutely amazing in how it presents important communications information. We developed it to let clients view their communications usage, expenses and services just the way they need to. Again, we improved a component of the service that really had little to do with the cost audit concept,  but again through our clients’ guidance we developed reporting tools that change the way a company manages communications.

So now, our challenge is to utilize what we created to grow our business. Bear in mind that our primary focus is to save companies money, however. We never want to lose sight of that mission. Tele-Watch is a software solution, but rather than take the typical approach of, “Let’s sell our software,” we made what I consider the bold statement of saying: “Lets give Tele-Watch to our prospective clients, let them feel the difference in single point of contact with ClientCare, and while this is occurring, show them how we can save them money. It’s a Win-Win-Win!”

OK, now I really sound like an advertisement! But when you think about our philosophy, it really makes sense beyond its raw promotional value. We save companies money. It’s our core mission. That’s why clients establish a relationship with us. Tele-Watch and ClientCare build relationships that last for years, if not indefinitely. So why not introduce people to the whole concept while we evaluate the benefit of the relationship in hard numbers?

That’s why we offer a Communication Management Free Trial, giving you the chance to sample our range of services as a prelude to securing long term savings and excellent service. I hope you can see beyond the sales pitch and appreciate the concept. I don’t know – did I fluff it up too much?

Like I said, North American business has changed, and you need the chance to make informed decisions, and today’s technology should allow it. Shouldn’t you able to test drive a service even at the enterprise level? What do you think?

Did You Get an Important Message From Rogers With Your Phone Bill?

It looks like recent activism about telecom fraud is having some effect. If you’re a Rogers telecom customer you probably got a letter entitled “An Important Message from Rogers” with your bill this month. Subtitled “Helping to protect your business from telecommunications fraud,” the letter certainly starts out on a positive note. We’re in the business of telecom expense management and cost reduction services, so the fraud issue – and resolving it so that our clients avoid paying fraudulent charges – is very important to us. Let’s see how Rogers is helping us. (Get the letter and read along if you have it!)

The first three paragraphs summarize the issue. Most cases of telecom fraud involve a third party breaching your phone system to use expensive, unauthorized services, such as offshore pay-per-call operations. They say the most effective defense is “knowledge.” The end user is responsible for monitoring authorization codes and “equipment.” (Why the quotes? Read on.) Rogers will “attempt” to monitor its network traffic.

What does Rogers recommend? The advice is superficially useful. Change your passwords. Educate your staff. Restrict long distance calling. That’s all good. If Rogers believes so strongly in this, why don’t they provide more secure default settings, or a setup checklist with a stronger security focus? Simply put: They have no economic motive to help. Thanks to a lack of regulation Rogers passes most fraud costs on to the consumer, so either way, the carrier gets paid. That’s what we wrote the CRTC about recently. See our CEO talk about the issue on video here (Youtube).

The letter really starts to get odd when it recommends that you “Monitor continuously” – something most end users cannot actually do in any meaningful sense. The average consumer learns about usage patterns through monthly billing. They have no form of real time or daily access to traffic or billing, so unless the fraud stretches across multiple months there is no way to detect activity at “the earliest stages,” as the letter puts it. Fraudsters who want to take you to the cleaners know they’ll get caught, so they often hit your lines for a brief, intense burst of billable activity before moving on.

Who can monitor usage patterns quickly enough to matter? If you answered “Rogers,” you’re correct – except that the letter takes pains to let you know that Rogers won’t commit to that – it will only “attempt” to monitor its network. Rogers also believes that your responsibility for “equipment” – hardware – includes all of the intangible information that passes through it. This is kind of like saying that when the phone rings, you pick it up and someone hits you with a harassing phone call, it’s your fault for picking up the phone.

In short, the letter has some good advice, some advice you probably can’t, and clarifies the ways in which Rogers won’t help you, making this a decidedly mixed communication from the Canadian telecom giant.

The truth is that once you’ve taken reasonable security precautions, there’s a point at which the provider should use best practices to maintain network security. The government should provide carriers with an incentive to do so and protect consumers, because end users are not “responsible” for fraud. Criminals are.

Android Phones in Canada: Why So Shy, Rogers?

Note: Shortly after this article was written, Telus added the HTC Hero to its stores, making it the second Canadian carrier to add an Android-powered phone.

One notable challenge in the Canadian wireless market is consumer expectation. Canadians can see new phones enter the marketplace south of the border and want them with comparable plans as soon as possible. When Rogers introduced the iPhone it discovered that pulling an (expensive) plan out of thin air for a product Canadians had waited on for months drew considerable ire – enough to force a limited time, low-cost 6 GB data plan. Everybody loves the iPhone, but it’s still far from the best for wireless cost reduction.

Rogers is approaching a similar watershed with phones powered by Google Android. Alone in offering phones powered by the operating system, the carrier has been able to mostly keep these offerings under the radar, but that’s about to change. Android 2.0 is a major update that promises iPhone-rivaling functionality and it’s linked to a high-profile hardware release: Motorola’s Droid smartphone. Even if Rogers doesn’t adopt the Droid (something that’s hard to imagine, considering it’s the only carrier with Android-powered phones at all) the phone has generated tremendous buzz for its OS, and Canadians are listening – they get the same ads, tech news and websites as Americans.

Fortunately for Rogers, Verizon’s Droid doesn’t have an iPhone’s style, or a special data plan – it’s billed the same as any other smartphone for comparable service – so chances are Canadians won’t have the same meltdown over Rogers’ onerous data prices. Naturally, the prices will still be ridiculous compared to the US market; most US Droid users will take advantage of a US$30 per month unlimited data plan while Rogers’ 5 GB plans – less than the typical “unlimited” ceiling in the US – cost CAN$80.

So Rogers may dodge iPhone rage, but they still have to contend with Canadian impatience at waiting for the Droid and other phones that are heavily advertised across the US. In this case, the company may be pursuing the right strategy by releasing Android-powered phones gradually, with a low profile. That seems to be the strategy behind adding the GW620 LG Eve to its catalog with minimal publicity, even though it’s a feather in the company’s cap – Rogers is the first North American carrier to offer it. One can only hope that a Rogers Android release comes with more hype – and inspired enough of a consumer backlash to inspire the company to offer an “appeasement” data plan, like it did for the iPhone.

All about Internet Sticks

Mobile carriers across the US and Canada are pushing “internet sticks” – USB modems that provide access over their data networks – as a major new product. In Canada, all three major carriers (Bell, Rogers and Telus) provide internet access via the stick. Rogers’ “Rocket Mobile” is probably the best known promotion in Canada – but does it and other internet sticks stand up to a rigorous wireless cost audit?

Using an internet stick provides the same quality access as using the internet on a 3G+ cell phone for a laptop or netbook. Many of the hardware limitations of an iPhone or Blackberry that cause slow web browsing won’t be present. This means you can enjoy fair to good speeds on major carrier networks. Installation is simple on Windows PCs and Macs – just plug the stick into your USB port.

Internet Stick Pricing

Most providers give you the stick for free on plans with commitments of at least two years. Canadian carriers offer two types of plans based on fixed or flexible tiered data usage. On a fixed plan you’ll use a set data transfer limit – go above the limit, and you’ll pay per-volume charges on the excess. This can increase your bill dramatically, so take care to track your usage and unplug your stick when you’re not using it. A tiered plan kicks you to different fixed rates – higher than fixed data charges for the same rates – depending on the amount of data transfer.

Remember that as the modem uses your carrier’s network, its regional service quality is the same as for your smartphone (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.). If you have a plan with roaming data service and this connects you to a third party network you may be in for additional charges, so be careful when you travel.

Generally speaking, the fixed plan is a better bargain if your internet usage doesn’t change much from month to month, but if it goes up and down quite a bit tiered plans are a better idea. Both types of plans usually range from $30 to $60 dollars per month plus system access fee (budget carrier brands that claim “no system access fee” push prices  up by the amount the fee would cost anyway).

Controlling Your Costs

If you go with an internet stick its cost effectiveness primarily depends on knowing your usage. If your usage patterns outside of Wi-Fi hot spots (where it’s unnecessary) are close to a particular data plan’s limit without going over too often it may make sense, but if you’re just at the lower limit of a package the cost per bit transferred can be rather expensive. Contact us with information about your usage and we’ll see about finding the right plan for you.

Save on Data Costs with Tethering — While You Still Can

In Canada, Rogers is pushing its Rocket Stick wireless internet service pretty hard. But you won’t hear much about another service that could save you money while providing similar advantages. I’m talking about internet tethering.

Tethering is the act of using your mobile phone as a modem. This allows you to hook it up to a laptop so that you can take advantage of wireless high speed internet on the go, much as you would with an internet stick.That means that instead of having separate plans for your phone and internet stick (and paying for the internet stick on short term plans) you’d be able to take it all from one data plan . . . except that you can’t, because carriers don’t want you to.

Tethering capability is actually built into most Internet-ready wireless hardware, but carriers typically block, reduce or levy extra charges for this function.  Out of the big three Canadian carriers, Bell and Telus both charge outrageous overage on tethering no matter your data plan, as their conditions specifically exclude it.

Rogers does support tethering — but it sure looks like they don’t want to. Rogers data plans of 1 GB or greater either automatically support tethering, or can get it enabled with a phone call, but this only applies to data plans subscribed to from June 19, 2009 to December 31st of this year. That means if you want tethering you need to act now.

For GILL Technologies customers in Canada tethering is a simple two process. Just Call ClientCare to request Rogers’ tethering Add-On and we’ll set it up for you, along with any data plan you need. Next, call again or ask us to call you) and we’ll walk you through setting up tethering step by step.

Where’s Canada’s Net Neutrality? Why Does It Matter to Mobile Users?

Last month the FCC drew up policy guidelines that strongly favored net neutrality: the principle that providers should not block or impede legal internet traffic. This is an important principle for users on several fronts. Without strong net neutrality an ISP might censor websites, or slow down data transfer speeds because it dislikes particular traffic patterns. Net neutrality keeps the internet working properly – at least in the US.

Unfortunately, Canadians need to contend with much more primitive polices – or really, a lack of policy at all – courtesy of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC. Canadian law kicked some aspects of internet regulation under the CRTC’s banner long ago and now the body doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. The CRTC’s inactivity used to be praised when Internet users were still afraid of state censorship, but that era’s gone. Nowadays, Canadian ISPs threaten net neutrality on several levels:

  • ISPs slow down peer to peer network traffic. The argument that this targets pirates is swiftly disappearing as peer to peer protocols are increasingly used to deliver legal content.
  • Infrastructure providers slow down bandwidth that it sells to wholesalers, reducing viable competition.
  • In 2005, Telus blocked access to sites maintained by the union representing Telus workers who were currently striking. No matter how you feel about that sort of thing, shouldn’t you have been able to see for yourself?

Canada has no net neutrality legislation and the CRTC’s slow, minimal regulation have the potential to become even bigger problems in the wake of the smartphone revolution. As Canadians demand mobile internet access and use technologies like VoIP to bypass onerous fees, larger carriers have an ever-stronger motive to provide tiered service, where getting unencumbered access will cost extra.

If you plan on employing a smartphone fleet carrier meddling won’t just increase your cell phone bills – it may change your core operations. If you’re counting on high mobile connectivity for specific business functions and carriers decide the traffic you want is “premium,” you might have to settle for a sub-optimal solution. Right now this scenario only covers a small number of cases, but it’s the cases we can’t think of that need protection the most. That Canadian policy threatens business innovation isn’t some far out conjecture; Google and Amazon have both asked the CRTC to stop allowing traffic shaping.

As a mobile telecom expense management firm this is a special concern for us. GILL Technologies has a special degree of competency in mixed telecom, particularly wireless internet. We want to provide competitive solutions that help clients reach new levels of success, but to do our best, we need an environment that will respect the online medium and let it act as a level playing field for competition. It’s good for businesses, good for consumers, and we hope the CRTC understands that.

Four Ways to Save on iPhone Bills Now

With its carrier-exclusive plans and heavy data usage, Apple’s iPhone represents a special challenge for telecom expense management. If you’re looking at it from the a global point of view as part of a wireless fleet there are a number of tactics professional auditors can use to make sure the iPhone has the smallest possible impact on fleet billing. Individual users may seem to have fewer options, but in their case it all comes down to using the iPhone intelligently. Let’s look at four ways to keep your costs to a minimum.

Choose Low-Minute Plans: Carriers are usually generous with plan minutes because voice is one of the most economical services for them to deliver, and in many cases people use far fewer minutes than they’re entitled to. AT&T’s plans feature unlimited mobile to mobile at all levels, so think about who you’ll be calling as well, and whether they’re likely to be on a landline. If you’re a Canadian Rogers customer, pick your My5 (your five unlimited local numbers) carefully.

Save it for WiFi: Unless you’re on an unlimited data plan, data is far and away the biggest cost pitfall on an iPhone. Even if you are on unlimited data there’s some cause for concern. If you’re a Rogers customer in Canada you may hit the ceiling of even their high capacity plans, and US AT&T customers may hit cost sinks while roaming. Take advantage of the iPhone’s WiFi capabilities whenever possible to avoid excessive data charges. While automatic WiFi detection does drain your battery faster, it drains your wallet less – make sure to keep it turned on.

Fring and Skype: These Apps are powerful cost savings tools whenever you’re in WiFi range (EDIT: and now with AT&T, even within its 3G network). Fring is an application that lets you talk through a variety of applications including MSN and Skype, bypassing standard long distance voice charges. There’s also a dedicated Skype application. Any billable usage is part of your data or Skype charges, (for paid features) making this especially useful for long distance calls.

Watch for Errors: iPhone bills are famous for their complexity; at one point, some heavy users received bills consisting of 50 or more pages. Like most carriers, iPhone plan providers do not have a flawless billing regimen and may make mistakes that add to your bill, such as charging for individual text messages even when you have an unlimited texting plan. Inspect your bill for inconsistencies and don’t be afraid to call your carrier with questions.

Of course, these tips don’t just apply to the iPhone, but many new smartphones. If your mobile unit has WiFi capability and the ability to download VoIP applications take these tips to heart and they’ll save you money. For a business-oriented solution you need to go beyond personal use tips, however, particularly when it comes to monitoring your bills for errors and inefficiencies. You need a cellular expense management plan. Contact us to get started.

The Canadian iPhone Monopoly Ends – but Don’t Expect Better Pricing

The big news in Canadian mobile telecom this week is the end of Rogers’ monopoly over the iPhone. In about a month all three major Canadian providers (Bell and Telus join Rogers) will offer it, begging the question: Is it going to get any less expensive?

Good question. In a sane wireless industry competition over such a popular product would rapidly drive costs down, but the reality might be disappointing. Telus, Bell and Rogers have a history of “competing without competing” – that is, rearranging their mobile contracts to give the appearance of serious competition without actually providing a clear advantage one way or the other. Remember, this is an industry where all three big providers decided to charge you for incoming text messages despite the excellent margins they already enjoy, even though one of them refusing to do so would have given it a significant boost in popularity.

So to be brutally honest, don’t expect to be able to shop around for a better iPhone deal – but you might be able to find a better deal for you. Instead of significant savings, iPhone users will probably win more freedom to purchase plans that suit them better. Shop around for plan features like voice and data that suit your needs, but expect to pay comparable prices no matter the carrier. Rogers’ data plans are so infamously expensive that you may get a bargain there, but carriers are probably taking a very close look at AT&T’s problems dealing with high iPhone data usage on its own networks.

Ultimately, finding the best iPhone deal will require you to monitor your own usage carefully. If you’re using one as part of a business fleet we have the tools to track your voice, data and other service usage with remarkable precision – and if the new carriers inspire you to upgrade to an iPhone, we can get you the hardware the tech support to do it smoothly. Contact us to start the process.

Four Reasons Why your Mobile Phones Leak Money

As your mobile phone bills pile up, ask yourself this: “Why are they so expensive?” The answer probably is not because this is simply how much your cell phone fleet costs. Understanding your cell phone plans is the first step to cost reduction. Over the years we’ve seen common problems crop up again and again. Here are four of them to consider the next time your bills arrive.

Billing Errors: Everybody makes mistakes, including major carriers like Bell Canada, Rogers, AT&T and Sprint. Some experts have found error rates as high as 30%. Carriers forget to include discounts, or charge you for pay per minute/unit services you never used. This is why a cellular expense management audit is such an important step in finding you savings.

Extra Units: When your employees leave or switch roles, what happens to their cell phones? In a surprising number of cases the answer is “nothing.” The phone still appears on your statement and still costs you money. In some cases, employees end up with two or even three units associated with them as they change roles, get new phones, and never get the new ones transferred or deactivated.

Inefficient Use: Some of your plans for the mobile fleet may not survive actual use. You imagine salespeople who constantly use voice and email to keep in touch with the head office, but it turns out that it’s more effective for them to compile all of their reports and send them from a computer. Some employees with company phones never even use them, and of course, there are always issues with employees misusing their phones. You can avoid this all with a regular usage breakdown by employee. Our telecom expense management software Tele-Watch does just that.

Unnecessary Services: Unnecessary services are a form of inefficient use. In these cases your staff uses company phones all the time – but they don’t take advantage of all of the features you’ve paid for. They don’t send email, or leave hundreds of unused minutes behind at the end of every month. Pooled minutes, customized plans and bundling can all help, as long as you know your options.

While you can combat many of these problems on your own, some of them require professional help. That’s why we’re here. Contact us for an initial telecom audit and we’ll show you how to plug up the “money leaks” in your current billing.

The Palm Pre at Bell: Can It Take a Bite Out of the iPhone in Canada?

After debuting June 6th, 2009 in the US, anticipation for the Palm Pre in Canada has slowly built, but it’s still a modest level interest – nothing like the frenzy that accompanied the iPhone’s arrival. Palm has a lot riding on the Pre; the company lost ground when PDAs effectively went extinct in favor of smartphones, so the Pre is a last ditch grasp at relevancy. Early indications are that it’s a good phone – maybe even a great one – but in many ways it’s adding its own spin to features that are now so heavily identified with the iPhone that looking at a Pre’s touchscreen is almost an ad for the competition.

Nevertheless, business users who focus on function over form have been slower to adopt the iPhone, particularly in Canada, where Rogers’ punishing contract terms make it hard to justify within a company’s telecom expense management regime. Still, there’s a widespread desire for a “next level” phone that’s a cost-effective business tool and after the spotty performance of the Blackberry Storm (which some attribute to suboptimal touchscreen features) there’s still room for a phone to fill that gap.

Basically, it’s all in Bell Mobility’s hands. Canadians want an iPhone/Rogers competitor with a comparable product, but better plans. On the other hand, there are plenty of Canadian iPhone users despite the Rogers contract, and this may tempt Bell to provide less attractive, expensive cell phone plans. If the Pre comes with flexible, competitive pricing it could become a third pillar between the staid functionality of RIM Blackberries and the trendy but extravagant iPhone. If Bell just exploits contracts and SIM locking to the hilt, then it’ll be another also-ran in a smartphone race dominated by two giants.