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.

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

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.

Organizing Your Telecom Expenses

To manage your telecom expenses you need to understand them. To understand them, you need to define and classify them. For many businesses, doing this internally entails a great deal of data entry and specialized spreadsheet use. That’s why our communications management software specializes in helping management perform these tasks through an intuitive web interface. The following categories are useful to help any business understand its telecom expenses.

Hardware/Infrastructure Telecom Services: These are services that are categorized by the equipment needed for them to exist. From this approach, the fundamental services are landline Voice, Cellular and Internet, but this is evolving along with the technology. Smartphones currently represent a point of transition, creating a Cellular data category, but this is rapidly vanishing into core cellular service. Similarly, roaming wireless Internet seems to be a category in transition, attached to either static Internet Service or Cellular service depending on the carrier.

Vendor Defined Telecom Services: These services are at heart, line items on your bill. These are often sub-divisions of hardware-defined services. Cellular services include voice, texting and data. Landline services include local and long distance. Expect these to transform over time as the plasticity of data allows services to be divided in any number of ways.

Telecom Service Bundles: One vital part of telecom expense management is the ability to compare service bundles by individual service, so that we can migrate or modify agreements to produce savings. All-in-one bundles may be the right choice for consumers who want to avoid billing hassles, but companies need a more sophisticated approach to improve the bottom line.

Telecom Usage: Finally, to manage your bill you need to find out how the money’s being used. That means identifying patterns in your company’s telecom usage. You can do this by location to compare multiple sites, by department or even by individual, over monthly, quarterly, annual and even lifetime usage. You can’t intelligently save money until you know what you’re already spending it on.

As we said in the beginning, general applications like spreadsheets can help smaller businesses track all of these factors, but enterprise level companies, as well as companies with complex telecommunications needs regardless of size, should consider a professional telecom expense management solution that can define and sort information in these categories, so as to keep billing error-free and optimized for savings in all necessary services.

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.