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.

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.

Manual Auditing or Telecom Expense Management Software: Why Pick One?

Enterprise level clients like ours typically have complex communications needs. They need a 360-degree solution that encompasses hardware, software and service, bound around core telecom cost reduction. People naturally have a drive to simplify the solution as much as possible. Lately, the telecom expense management community has discussed this process by contrasting manual auditing and using a telecom expense management software solution.

In our experience, the trouble with this kind of thinking is that it doesn’t really take the distinct role of both methods into account. A total communications solution uses manual auditing and software together. We’ve learned that this provides the greatest benefits to our clients.

Manual telecom cost auditing is actually something of a misnomer because all manual analysis uses software. Over the course of years, we’ve developed custom spreadsheet applications to perform the most accurate and efficient manual audits possible. We’ve graduated from the spreadsheet of doom to custom applications, but we still apply the lessons learned to human analysis. This does the math, but we still need people to investigate current and upcoming service offerings. Our integrated approach starts by asking what clients need, and exploring the industry as a whole to find a solution. This can involve hardware as well as software. Is there a more cost effective handset? What kind of conferencing solution is best for the client? The field is always evolving, so it takes educated eyes to find the data. Furthermore, as the landscape changes, you need someone to explore new alternatives and potential migrations to other carriers/providers. The benefit of manual auditing isn’t in crunching the numbers, but finding the numbers to begin with.

Communications management software provides a way to monitor your costs over time. Our custom Tele-Watch web-based software lets clients view their expenses over a web-based interface. This helps us fulfil one of our company’s central values: accountability in telecommunications. That means we ensure that you know where every penny of expenses come from, and how we’ve saved you money through cost reduction. Tele-Watch lets us and the client view emerging expense trends and consider options to keep costs down. This lets us develop the best long term solution for each client.

In conclusion, we think the ideal form of telecom expense management is a comprehensive approach that evolves over time and relies on a partnership between purpose-built software and trained manual auditing – and even goes beyond that, to skilled client care and hardware procurement. That’s what works best for our clients, and what we think will work best for you.

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.

More on Voicemail Fraud

Following up on our last article about voicemail fraud, users should be aware that Bell Canada has taken the position that the onus is on the victim to pay fraudulent charges. This comes in the wake of several serious voicemail hacks, including one that cost one Oakville, Ontario-based company over $60,000. In this case, Bell detected the situation and cut off long distance access . . . then sent the company the bill. After some wrangling, Bell agreed to accept a smaller amount.

Believe it or not, this is not the worst instance of fraud. One Burlington, Ontario – based company got stuck with a phone bill of over $200,000 due to the same form of fraud. In this case, Bell agreed to accept about half of that amount as a “goodwill gesture.” However, Bell has made it clear that it considers these charges the responsibility of the account holder.

Bell’s position is that account holders are responsible for using the safeguards on voicemail systems to prevent criminals from illegally accessing them. Last month, the company took out ads in major Canadian newspapers detailing this position, and in situations where it’s compromised on bills the company has said lowered charges are a favour, not an obligation.

One thing that Bell is less than forthcoming about, however is who exactly is administering these apparently vulnerable voicemail systems – namely, Bell itself. Furthermore, which of these victims failed to follow Bell’s recommendations? Which ones didn’t – and if they didn’t, did they even know what they were supposed to do? Did Bell say anything to them about what they expected users to do in the way of security administration, or is this advice post-hoc lecturing?

The fact of the matter is that full security precautions are as onerous as the attached system makes them. While using hard to guess passwords is a no-brainer, why do Bell’s services include easily exploitable default settings? Can you really expect companies that don’t have a telecom or security focus to change their passwords every 90 days? If Bell is serious about fraud prevention, why don’t they make a system that pushes security update requests and adds at least one strong, default security process to go through before users get long distance access?

The idea that the user is responsible by default is convenient for providers, but practically speaking, most businesses aren’t filled with telecom security experts. They just want to use their services in a convenient, cost-effective fashion. We can’t comment on who’s legally bound to pay these fraudulent charges (that’s for the courts) but we can say that if you’re worried about these sorts of situations, the best option is to outsource your telecom customer service to experts who understand the providers’ policies and procedures, and can argue your case from an informed position. We’ve learned from experience in the telecom expense management field that needless charges often result from customers who just can’t afford to wait on the phone for provider support, and don’t have the time, knowledge and inclination to argue for the cost reduction they deserve.

Voicemail Security

For GILL Technologies, telecom expense management is a comprehensive service that includes telecom customer service. We pride ourselves on handling technical issues for you. That means we keep abreast of many different trends and issues, including security.

One issue that’s making the rounds right now concerns voicemail security. We’ve received several advisories about professional criminals hacking voicemail systems. Voicemail fraud is typically used to place long distance calls through a system, leaving the billing with you. In an email alert, Bell Canada characterizes this crime as a “global trend.” This is an accurate observation. Telecom-related crime often crosses international borders, making offenders difficult to catch, prosecute or recover damages from.

A voicemail fraudster usually calls a business after hours to get uninterrupted time on the line. The criminal then uses ether automated or manual techniques to steal your password. After getting access to the system, the fraudster uses it to place long distance calls on your bill. If the voicemail configuration allows it, the criminal will make several repeat visits, or even set things up to make it easier to get back in. In fact, your account information may make the rounds with the fraudster’s associates. Eventually, this activity will show up on your phone bill, but that still gives the crook up to a month to exploit your system. This can result in huge bills – and one thing Bell won’t tell you is that they’re not always willing to refund charges that are obviously fraudulent.

Fortunately, voicemail systems have several protections in place – but you have to know what they are, and use them properly. Here’s what security experts advise:

  • Don’t use the system’s default password or passwords that are easy to guess. Criminals have lists of these.
  • Demand passwords with a minimum of six (and preferably eight) digits.
  • Don’t base the password off of publicly accessible information, such as the phone number or extensions.
  • Change passwords every 90 days.
  • The prime target of fraudsters is the system’s through-dialing system, which allows remote long distance calls through the voicemail account. If you won’t use it, disable it. Otherwise, require password authentication for each and every session. Customer support should be able to guide you through the setup.
  • Use management and reporting tools to track the origins and details of every call. Voicemail systems will have these systems in place.
  • Remove unassigned mailboxes.
  • If you’re not sure how a feature works, consult customer service. Lack of knowledge is one of the most common causes of security programs.

The drawback to best practices in security is that they can be labor intensive. That’s why even though most of these tips are common sense, voicemail fraud will probably be around for a while. One advantage of our services is that we can manage this for you. Instead of wasting time on the phone with a provider you can make a quick call to one of our client care representatives. Our cost audits can also uncover suspicious activity and most importantly, serve as evidence when fraud sparks a billing dispute between your company and the carrier. Contact us to find out more.

GILL Technologies Expands to Toronto

Toronto, ON, Canada: GILL Technologies (http://www.gill-technologies.com) announced today that it added an additional Telecommunications Partner office in Toronto, ON. The office will provide telecom expense management services, cellular cost auditing, client care, consulting and support to clients in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.

The office joins other certified Telecommunications Partner offices in Central Ontario and the US. Each office offers a consistent standard in telecommunications auditing, cost reduction, customer support and procurement. The core GILL Technologies service reduces client telecommunications bills as a self-funded service. Fees come from a portion of the savings so that clients’ total expenses are always lower. In addition, GILL Technologies manages migrations to new carriers, service plans and hardware, and serves as a single point of contact for technical support. Client profiles range from small businesses to enterprise-level clients with complex telecommunications needs.

GILL Technologies Partners are independent business owners that are trained and certified to a common standard. This authorizes them to provide GILL Technologies’ expertise in internet, landline and mobile communications. Partners Marcus Vandenbrink and Richard Carroll manage their Toronto office under the GILL Technologies brand.

“GILL Technologies is very familiar with the Canadian telecommunications industry,” said GILL Technologies president George Gill. “We’ve always wanted more feet on the ground in one of our core markets. There’s a strong demand for our services in the GTA, where many companies need 24/7 mobile communications at competitive prices. Growing our business is all about saving them money, and with a Partner office close at hand we’ll be able to do just that.”

Interested parties can find out more about GILL Technologies’ services 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

The Mike Blackberry: Is It For You?

Telus’ Mike brand announced its adoption of the Blackberry Curve 8350i – one of the first new Mike phones in a long time. Telus uses the Mike line to sell phones with two characteristics. First, Mike phones are often more rugged than a standard mobile. Mike’s marketing emphasizes this with a “tough guy” ad campaign. The Curve 8350i isn’t really representative of this aspect. It’s a high end Blackberry, so even though it’s quality hardware we wouldn’t advise you to shove one in your back pocket while you do some heavy construction work.

The Curve does harness the other Mike draw, however, which is Motorola’s iDEN technology. iDEN allows the Curve to function much like a two-way radio over cellular lines. This means that users in the network can talk to each other instantly by pushing a single button – a feature called, appropriately enough, “push to talk.” Does this work with a Blackberry’s role as more of a sit-down tool? That depends on what you use it for. If you need total access to office resources, the Curve is about as good as it gets. It’s a premium item, but if you perform proper telecom cost audit procedures you may find yourself reaping the benefits of a better connected mobile workforce.

If you need to rapidly communicate on the move iDEN is for you. This makes it a great solution if you have a traveling sales force. One thing to watch out for, however, is how support for iDEN may change in the wake of Sprint’s 2004 merger with Nextel. Sprint/Nextel is currently the US’ biggest iDEN provider, but it plans to switch to competing CDMA technology by 2010. This doesn’t affect Canadian Mike customers directly but it might influence future commitment to the technology. In the case of the 8350i loss of iDEN doesn’t completely blunt the advantages, as the phone also features off-network walkie-talkie style communications. Americans interested in iDEN may want to give it a second thought, or ensure that they have a way to easily migrate their plans in a year’s time.

So these are the pros and cons. If you want a more in depth view, contact us and we can discuss it in terms of your own cellular expense management needs.

Your Telecom Expense Management New Year’s Resolutions

If your phone bill hasn’t come in already you should probably be prepared to pay more than usual to ring in the New Year. That’s because usage tends to increase in the run up to the holidays. But should your phone bill really by that big? Just saying “It doesn’t look right” isn’t a good enough analysis to save you money. Instead, follow these resolutions to get to know your cellular phone and landline bills.

Shop for Plans Based on Your Usage History

If you’re not texting like crazy, maybe an unlimited texting plan is a waste of your money. If you’re constantly uploading pictures, checking email or moving business documents from your phone, upgrade your package for improved data. Look at multiple providers. There’s enough competition in the industry to ensure that at any given time, someone’s offering a deal that fits the way you use your phone.

Look for VoIP Plans near You

There are very few reasons why the average person shouldn’t switch to VoIP. If you live in a smaller community, outsourced 911 services and unreliable broadband connectivity are fine reasons to think twice. If you’re a business with complicated service needs you’ll have to study your options carefully as well. Otherwise, the savings speak for themselves, particularly if you have relatives on the other side of the country, which for VoIP users, costs them same as ringing the next door neighbor.

See If You’re Tripping over Internet Bandwidth Caps

One of the biggest unanticipated communications expenses is internet usage in excess of the cap on your broadband plan. This is an issue where tracking bills over multiple months is extremely useful, since bandwidth usage can vary tremendously. If your work needs lead to odd periods of huge data transfers you can tally an average across a period to see if switching to another plan would help.

Use a Telecom Expense Management Expert for Complex Business Needs

If you’re running a business and juggling multiple phones or telecom services don’t waste time you could be using to grow your business fretting over your bills. Hire us for telecom expense management for every service, including Internet and mobile phones. Our no-risk service never costs you more than you’d pay on your own. Best of all, our client care staff makes sure it works without you having to waste time on the phone with telecom providers.