The iPhone Lands Like a Canada Goose — In Canada, That Is

So, it’s in Canada now. After much speculation, wailing and gnashing of teeth, Canadians can finally get their own iPhones. How did things work out for folks north of the 49th Parallel? Let’s look at the Good, the Not So Good, and the Telecom Expense Management Angle.

The Good: Canadians got hardware price parity — the Canadian 8 GB iPhone is $199. Fueled by rising fuel prices and a downturn in US currency, the Canadian dollar has floated at near parity with the US dollar for a while now, but prices have been slow to change in response. Canadians are used to paying more, but by now they shouldn’t really have to. When it comes to buying the iPhone, they enjoy the same discount as American customers. Canadians should hope that this new parity eventually extends to other products and services but they might have some additional hurdles to jump because . . .

The Not So Good:Â . . . while the base prices are at parity, Canadians have to pay more — sometimes a lot more — to use the same features. Originally, Rogers’ announced plans were . . . insane. The cheapest package for Rogers was CAN$60 for 400 megs and it went up, up, up from there. After widespread consumer outrage, Rogers offered a 6 GB plan for CAN$30 instead — for now. If you don’t get an iPhone by August 31st, Rogers will revert to its previous, cringe worthy pricing scheme.

Worse, Rogers doesn’t exactly want you to know that there’s a deal afoot. Go to the iPhone plans page. Notice how you have to scroll down to see the new plan? How the price isn’t mentioned, and you need to click on an additional link to find it? How, in fact, you could miss it completely if you followed the site’s guidance?

Nice going. And remember: If you buy one, you’re on the hook for three years: the longest iPhone plan commitment in the world.

The Telecom Expense Management Angle: You want to save money buying a phone from a monopoly that only offered a decent plan under duress, seems to be hoping you’ll miss the chance, and reserves the right to eliminate it at any time? What could possibly go wrong?

It’s a pity, really. The 3G iPhone is probably the first iteration of the device that has more than hype and sleek design going for it. It has formidable data capabilities and could be a legitimate business tool, but at post-August 31st rates it’ll be more of a status symbol than anything else. Plus, being locked into Rogers means you don’t benefit from carrier competition.

This doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do for an iPhone user. We can still monitor usage and billing errors to save Canadian iPhone users money. Better yet, if you discount the branding angle, the iPhone does help you indirectly, because other manufacturers are stepping up to the plate with exciting mobile devices aimed squarely at iPhone’s niche. Once they mature, you’ll be able to get a cool equivalent without hooking up with a questionable plan.

Cellular Expense Management Lingo

Cell phone plans are complicated for a number of reasons. One is the technology, which isn’t just driven my miniaturization and power, but by a shifting set of global standards that let us talk to each other and determine how we do it. Another reason is that standard telecom company practices aren’t always pretty. Most people don’t know, for instance, that phone companies deliberately hamstring flexible standards that are supposed to help users. If you haven’t read telecom expense management literature, you might not even know if it was possible to switch carriers as easily as SIM technology should allow.

What’s SIM? What else should you know? Here are a bunch of terms that people use in the TEM business.

BAN: Business Account Number

CTN: Cellular Telephone Number

GSM: Short for “Global System for Mobile communications.” This is the most popular international mobile standard.

IMEI: International Mobile Equipment Identity. This is international serial number identifies a mobile device, but not necessarily its user.

IMSI: International Mobile Subscriber Identity. This unique number identifies a GSM network mobile subscriber. The IMSI number is stored on his or her SIM.

LD: Long Distance

OOB: “Out of Bucket.” Minutes used over those allotted by your cell phone plan.

Porting: Moving a phone from one carrier to another. The new carrier must agree to a TOR.

Pre-HUP: Upgrading a phone before being eligible to do so under a cell phone plan. Doing so incurs an additional fee.

Roaming: Receiving cellular services outside of the local area where the phone was registered.

SIM (or SIM Card): Subscriber Identity Module. This is a removable card that contains a user’s subscription information (including ISMI) and personal data. It can be swapped from phone to phone so that a user can easily switch phones. SIM Locking restricts swapping.

SIM Lock: A restriction on some GSM phones that only allows them to accept SIM cards from certain countries or networks. In North America, most new phones on extended plans are SIM Locked.

System Access Fee: A basic administrative cost that all carriers charge, regardless of the phone or service offered.

TOR: Transit of Responsibility, where one carrier agrees to take over another’s service agreement.

Cell Phone Expense Management

Last week I talked about our core telecom auditing process, but I left out one important area: cellular service. Mobile phones are GILL Technologies’ specialty; we handle everything from cellular expense management to procurement. I held off on that topic because I wanted to talk about it in detail — and that’s what I’m doing today.

We use the same three step process (cost audit, expense management plan, customer service presentation) for cell phone plans as we do for other telecommunications items, but a cell phone cost audit includes several unique factors:

Basic Plan Features: I look at basic inbound and outbound charges along with core features like texting and Internet. Modern cellular service plans are feature-heavy — and charge-heavy, too. Service providers present these packages individually, but I use our internal clues to audit them from a global perspective. That way, I can compare the costs per service for various combinations.

Data/Smartphones: Blackberries, 3G Phones and other mobile data devices go beyond the traditional role of the cell phone as a land line analog. I fit the capabilities of different devices and carriers to the client’s needs.

Pooling Cell Phone Plans: I track pooled minutes, down to the minute — something carriers often rely on you not doing. We find pooling plans where clients use their minutes efficiently.

US Roaming Charges: Roaming charges are always important, but they additional complexity in many US states. Roaming plans can cut across a host of carriers, each of which have distinct benefits and drawbacks.

Once I have all the information, it’s time to match it usage trends. Cell phone plans are complicated, but the complexity can be an advantage. Service providers set the standard of counting charges down to the minute. Thanks to that, I can track use patterns with precision. Once I estimate what a company’s needs are I can pick appropriate plans.

In many cases, the ideal solution will change depending on the department or individual, but we know how to manage multiple carriers and plans for our clients. One of the advantages of cell phone expense management is that your company can save money using methods that would be too logistically challenging to implement in-house. The best solution is the easiest — when you get us to take care of it for you.

About the Author: Ted Washburn is a telecom expense management analyst at GILL Technologies.