Telecom Expense Management for Small Businesses – Part 3

Single Point of Contact Support and Procurement

In part-3 of this 3 part series focusing on telecom expense management for small business, we look at single point of contact support and procurement. Dealing with the carriers can be especially challenging for small business as they are stuck between being treated like a consumer by the carriers, yet trying to run a company much like a mid size or larger business.

Therefore understanding how a single contact point where a small business can channel all of their communication needs can be extremely beneficial. Discover just a few ways outsourcing communication management support even for the small guy – is a good move.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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.

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.

Having Trouble Setting up a Rogers Rocket Stick to a VPN?

Rogers Rocket mobile internet sticks are "plug and play" devices that let you browse the web from pretty much anywhere your Rogers phone would work. You don’t need to set them up for most types of Web browsing – just plug them in. Unfortunately, there’s one exception: Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs. Unfortunately, VPN access is now an added service (another $10 per month at the time of writing) you have to request for your account. Once that feature’s been added to your account you do need to do some setup work. Here’s what you do:

  1. Pick VPN as the default connection.
  2. From the connection manager, go to settings
  3. Now add the following:
  • APN: Enter VPN.com ( usually defaults to internet.com)
  • Username: wapuser1
  • Password: wap
  • Dial number   *99#

Save this information, then go back to main page and set as your default. After that, getting into your VPN should be a breeze!

Reduce Rogers Mobility Billing Now

How to Fix Cell Phone Static With a New SIM Card

Mobile phone static can be caused by may factors,  including poor coverage area and issues with your handset. One often overlooked cause is the SIM card.

If you are experiencing issues with static on your cell phone try a new version of your SIM card before you either give up and purchase a new phone, or spend hours talking to Tech support.

If you’re a customer of Rogers Wireless in Canada, here’s how to identify the most up to date SIM card:

  • The newest Rogers SIM card version starts with 8930 2720 4000, followed by the next eight digits.
  • Older versions would be 8930 2720 3040 (xxxx xxxx) or 8930 2720 3030 (xxxx xxxx).

Checking to see if your SIM card’s causing static can save you hassle and expense down the road. Give it a try!

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.