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.

The iPhone 3G S: Worth the Contract?

On June 8th 2009 Apple announced the latest version of their iPhone. This looks like another incremental change – more minor features and solved problems. Apple is obviously aiming to maintain the iPhone as one of the core smartphone configurations, so its design is basically the same. The improvements are good, but are they enough for a company to adopt iPhones despite their cellular expense management challenges?

The new iPhone supports tethering and MMS, comes with a better camera, battery and headphone included, and is a tougher unit. It’s faster; it features automatic field filling for web browsing. All in all, there isn’t much to make you go “wow.” Even the voice command feature isn’t unexpected, since it’s an emerging technology for other phones.

It’s easy to be dismissive, but combined, these improvements make the iPhone a tempting choice for anyone thinking of a smartphone, but for businesses, there’s a barrier: the contract. AT&T and Rogers in Canada have maintained their stranglehold over the iPhone. In Canada, Rogers has exploited its iPhone monopoly with particular gusto, charging far more than AT&T for cell phone plans with lower data caps. While there are ways to “jailbreak” the phone’s SIM lock and other restrictions this isn’t an appropriate solution for businesses. Inflexible contracts mean that even though the new iPhone could be a fantastic business smartphone it won’t be a cost-effective choice outside of fields where the phone’s trendy nature takes precedence over practical function.

There is one attractive aspect from a telecom expense management perspective: the 8GB 3G model has dropped to just $99 in the US. Rogers hasn’t followed suit, but may do so after Canadian release details come out.

Will Android Make Expense Management Easier for Smartphones?

It’s not as smooth looking as the iPhone. The interface isn’t quite as fancy. Still the first Google Android based phone is here. The T-Mobile G1Â went on sale two days ago to largely positive reviews. Priced to compete with the iPhone, the question is whether its features and flexible pricing can compete with sheer Apple buzz. Naturally, from a telecom expense management perspective we’re interested in the pricing, but let’s get into the phone first.

T-Mobile’s marketing angle is simple. It distills the familiar desktop down to your screen and promises the same web surfing experience you’d get from a PC. In addition, the G1 comes loaded with popular Google applications. Notably, Google Street View aligns with how you’re holding the phone based on its built-in compass and accelerometer. Neat, but then again, Street View is often just used as a toy. The more interesting aspect of it is Android’s open standards commitment (and eventual open source release, say Google execs). This means that if consumers bite, the Android Marketplace for apps could explode with new widgets at a rate Apple could never hope to match with its own carefully managed, closed approach – if people can get past the G1’s brick shape.

For cellular expense management, one thing leaps out: T-Mobile actually lets you choose from a bunch of plans, while an iPhone sticks you with a tightly restricted set. This flexibility will give us a lot more power to keep G1 fees down, but the real breakthrough will come when other 3G handsets offer Android with a slightly downscaled set of features to drop into the lower end of the smartphone niche. These phones could serve as an alternative choice for corporate fleets that rely on Blackberries, assuming that push email client Funambol offers comparable service. Some will insist on Exchange for interoperability with the office, but open source means the price point can drop more rapidly once Android hits budget devices. At that point, some people will take a long, hard look at how they really use mobile mail, and whether the G1’s descendants would be the smarter choice.

Eyeballing the Blackberry Bold – How Does it Stack Up Against the iPhone?

We’ve been blogging about the iPhone 3G a lot lately, and for good reason: Everyone working in telecom expense management will have to deal with its rigid plans and arcane activation procedures. But what’s really interesting is how the iPhone woke every other manufacturer up. They all know that people want stylish, high end smartphones now, and that they’ll go to considerable effort to get them.

The iPhone is branded as a smartphone and its features take aim at RIM’s Blackberry, so it’s fitting that RIM’s reacted with a product seemingly designed to attack the iPhone’s niche. It’s called the Blackberry Bold, or 9000 series.

The Bold is currently running in test markets, but a wide release is just around the corner. AT&T in the US and Rogers in Canada have both announced plans to carry it, leading to the big question: Which smartphone will get a better plan? Unfortunately, that’s not something we can reliably answer (yet), but what we can do is look at the 9000’s features and see how they compare to the iPhone’s.

Applications: The iPhone supports lots of snazzy Apple apps. They’re a real joy to use but let’s face it: There are times when you just need to get down to business. The Blackberry Bold lets you edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. The winner? That depends on your agenda, but you’ll probably be more productive with a 9000 gracing your pocket.

Memory: The iPhone wins here, with 8 or 16 GB options. The Blackberry Bold has a respectable 1 GB, but can be expanded to 8 GB.

Media Toys: Both phones synch with iTunes. The Times review notes that the Bold’s screen is just as clear as the iPhone’s. Both of them feature 2 MP cameras, but while the iPhone’s great at organizing photos into nifty albums, we’re not sure if the 9000 will match it. Winner: iPhone, but only due to lack of evidence on the Bold’s part.

Email: The iPhone uses Activesynch technology to regularly request email right from your Exchange server. RIM operates its own network; Blackberries are virtually synonymous with this “push” approach. Although outages are an occasional problem, millions of users are satisfied with it. We’ve also heard anecdootal evidence that it’s just plain faster than iPhone, too. This is Blackberry’s edge; it wins.

Web: Both phones offer true HTML browsing but the iPhone uses Safari: the same browser used by Macs. I feel conflicted here; I know lots of people dig Safari but when I tried it, I was disappointed – but maybe that’s because Firefox is my usual browser, and it’s just so good. I’m withholding judgment here. Both phones are also capable of Wifi.

The iPhone is very, very cool. The Blackberry Bold might be cool, but it has to overcome the brand’s somewhat staid, business-oriented image. That sums up the whole challenge of the “iPhone niche.” This is a crossover market whose customers are looking for a mix of features and style. One thing that might resolve it is the state of this niche a year from now, when the Apple fan effect will fade, and a larger proportion of consumers will decide based on something more than Apple’s formidable brand.

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.

A Telecom Auditing Eye for the 3G iPhone Guy

Let’s face it: As it currently stands, Apple’s iPhone gets by on being a stylish status symbol as much as it does on actual features. You can’t beat Apple’s aesthetics or interface design. But behind the hype, the iPhone’s appeal has been limited by its high price and the US’ chaotic business models and wireless network standards, which make some features frustratingly slow or expensive. Even though iPhones are a hot consumer product, few businesses opted for fleets of them. One might sneak into a corporate plan as an executive toy, but that’s about it.

At least, that was before the 3G iPhone was announced, promising twice the capacity at half the up-front price.

The 3G has lots of toys too, but where it gets interesting from the telecom expense management perspective is how it affects a mobile data market that was virtually synonymous with the Blackberry. AT&T promises “business-class” email and data capabilities for iPhone customers. This refers to “push” email technology that maintains a constant connection to facilitate faster updates. As the old .Mac service transforms into MobileMe, clients will benefit from cross-platform, synchronized push services that give you access to up to date email and other info from your computer, phone and anything else in your data “cloud.”

This PDF represents AT&T’s hard sell to business clients. Between the new services, subsidized price drop and the unlimited data plan Apple arranges for iPhone subscribers, it might be time to reconsider the iPhone as a cost effective (if easily distracting, thanks to iTunes and true web browsing) business device. There’s one big catch, though: Exclusivity.

Any telecom audit professional will tell you that inflexibility equals higher expenses. It’s always been a big cellular expense management challenge in SIM-locked North America. The 3G iPhone’s exclusive tie to AT&T in the US (and Rogers in Canada) means that beyond Apple’s demands for an unlimited data package, providers can put a little extra fat on their fees, like the $10/month increase that AT&T seems they’ll be adding to data costs. You might want to hold on to your less-glamorous Blackberries after all.