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.

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.

Data Caps and Cellular Expense Management

Data caps became a hot topic for Canadian iPhone users last year when Rogers announced their plans wouldn’t have the unlimited data privileges US iPhone owners enjoy. This was widely viewed as an abuse of Rogers’ effective monopoly. In response, Rogers rushed out a special, cheap plan for early adopters, but if you want an iPhone now, too bad: You can’t get that plan any more. Currently, the plans advertised on Rogers’ site have a 500 MB cap: paltry for a noted data hog like the iPhone.

Rogers seems to be gradually getting the idea that high end cellular customers know they’re paying more for no good reason, however; non-iPhone data plans have gradually improved, probably because unlike the iPhone, customers can take their business elsewhere. In the end, however, the key to managing cellular data expenses is the user. You need to track your data usage and select a plan accordingly. This is especially important if you go with something like Rogers’ Flex plan, where bumping even a bit over the threshold of one tier leaves you on the hook for a significant chunk of money.

Cellular expense management matters in these cases because an analyst is not only capable of looking at your usage trends, but comparing them to break points in pricing across multiple carriers. A Rogers plan might work for you if you’re regularly getting near, but not exceeding, the cap for a given plan. If you’re constantly bumping just over the threshold, however, it’s time to look elsewhere.When GILL Technologies gets involved, this is where we would manage a service migration in the background, ensuring continuity of service while we move you to a better plan (though sadly, we can’t migrate the iPhone to another carrier).

Remember: The best deal is no deal at all if you’re mostly paying for things you never use.

It’s Time to Add Headsets to Your Mobile Phone Fleet

Our cellular expense management services include uncovering hidden costs. I’m not just talking about parts of your service plan that could be better administered, but finding the right services and hardware for your needs. These days that means we’ll often recommend Bluetooth headsets as a standard accessory for the cell phones in your company fleet. There are two reasons for this:

  • More US states and Canadian provinces are banning hands-on cell phone use as time goes on. Since this is a recent development, enforcement will probably be more vigorous than you might think.
  • Hands-on cellular use really is dangerous. Headsets are cheaper than the price of a new company car after one of your distracted employees wraps the old one around a telephone pole.

Laws against driving while using the phone usually make exceptions for hands free devices and in any event, police are looking for the guy jamming one phone against his head while the other barely controls the wheel. Many states don’t have specific bans but they do have careless driving legislation that comes into effect if you commit a moving violation while you’re on the phone. If it appears the phone was distracting you you’ll face increased penalties.

Outfitting your business fleet with headsets should be mandatory if you expect employees to make contact while they’re on the road. You may not think you require this, but when in doubt perform this experiment: Instruct your employees to wait until they’re on foot to call you about everything, no matter how important it is. Try a week. If this disrupts business you’ll know that you’ve come to depend on road calls.

Fortunately, by picking the right source you can add reliable headsets at low cost. Our cellular customer service specializes in this kind of hardware procurement. Contact us to see how we can manage it for you.

Talking Email on the Go: What’s the Best Option for Telecom Expense Management?

Speech recognition and text to speech applications have had a bad rap in the past because the technology was rushed out the door, before it was really ready. If you’ve been disappointed in the past, fear not: New applications work pretty well. The main challenge now lies in choosing the apps and hardware that work best for you. This is just one example of the everyday issues that telecom expense management professionals like us deal with.

Speech apps are a big deal nowadays because of the convergence of two things: email on smartphones and new restrictions against using your cell phone while driving. Getting on the phone while driving was always a bad idea, but in many jurisdictions it’s now illegal – but now, your phone is a business tool that if anything demands more attention, especially when you’re counting on real time email alerts to keep you posted on company events.

Let’s look at two ways Canadian customers can deal with this. The first is a new piece of hardware: the iLane. It’s a dashboard device that not only verbally alerts you when you have email and reads the email to you, but it can also be fully controlled with voice commands. You can even compose replies with your voice and verbally control other smartphone functions. iLane is currently compatible with the Blackberry OS, but the manufacturer promises support for other mobile email formats in the near future.

The iLane has some notable drawbacks – namely, its $599 price tag and $7.99 per month subscription fee. There are alternatives for more modest budgets, however. Rogers Nuance offers an impressive selection of voice command and text to speech features delivered entirely through software and network resources. Nuance allows you to perform 411 searches, send email add appointments and more with voice commands, and your phone will use its speaker to verbally reply. Like iLane, Nuance is compatible with Blackberry devices.

Nuance has limits; your phone’s speaker, microphone and other performance specs are limits to functionality, but the price wins, hands down. It only costs $6per month. Its service suite is probably not as complete as iLane’s, and you’ll want to play with it a bit to determine its range, volume and whether you want to use a headset for comfortable performance.

Ultimately, your choice would depend on what you need personnel to be able to do, how often, and the social role of the device in your office. Nuance may be the solution for most management staff, for example, while iLane might be the tool for executives on the move, all in the same firm. The choice is yours; the essence of telecom expense management is the ability to make that choice with superior information at your fingertips.

Cellular Expense Management for the Best Phone in the Universe

We here at GILL Technologies are excited at performing cellular expense management duties for the new pomegranate phone.* Click through the features (go through all of them!) to see why this phone goes above and beyond any previous high end mobile device on the market.

This is a great challenge for us because of the number of billing items a typical pomegranate phone will use. The average smartphone is all about a mix of minutes, texting, internet access and electronic pay per use features. With the pomegranate phone, we’ll have to be vigilant about additional translation languages, pay per view films and, of course, coffee sachets and shaving gel.

These line items will doubtless generate an epic number of billing errors and a number of extremely complicated plans – opportunities for us to find numerous ways to save our clients money, especially if they really like coffee.

* Yes, we know it’s a viral ad for Nova Scotia. But just imagine if it was real!

Will Windows Azure Fatten Your Telecom Expenses With Thin Client Thinking?

Every few years, software and hardware manufacturers team up to push thin client computing on consumers. Whenever this happens it reminds me of the 90s movie Singles, where one character, pushing his vision for luxury subways for Seattle, ignores the simple truth that keeps getting thrown in his face: “People like their cars.” People like their fat-client, autonomous PCs and devices, too. Now, thanks to the rise of high speed mobile data, Microsoft and others are sounding the call to thin clients again under the guise of “cloud computing.” Windows Azure is one of several such initiatives that promise flexibility and convenience . . . for a price.

The tricky part is the software as a service model built into Azure and other offerings. Do you really want to rent your office productivity software instead of buy it? Do you trust your connection enough to rely on external hosting for any sizable chunk of data? The fact is that you might now, since cell phones and push email have trained us to accept Internet-based services that boost the meager power of mobile devices. On the other hand, it’s yet another item on your bill, and you’ve got to trust that your provider’s giving you a secure, reliable set of services.

From a telecom expense management perspective I think it’ll all come down to a race between hardware and software. If smartphones experience explosive progress in local storage and processing there won’t be much need to rent from the “cloud” (or laptops, for that matter – they’ll probably converge). On the other hand, if software gets big enough or people learn to depend on ubiquitous document sharing they’ll need to plug into the services network. If these start to get hosted over wide-area networks providers will bundle and bill for them. Being telecom companhies, they’ll make billing errors – and we’ll catch them.