Beyond North America

North American cellular telecom expense management is the heart of our business. Nevertheless, we keep abreast of trends beyond our primary market. There are compelling reasons for doing so – three “Ps.”

1) Products

One of the simplest reasons is that other markets are testing grounds for phones and devices that could be bound for the North American market. As I mentioned in our last article, the Blackberry Bold rolled out in test markets first – including Chile. You have to do more than just observe whether or not a product is hot in one country or another. Look at the relationship between the product, consumer and infrastructure.

Example: Developing nations’ explosive wireless growth and need for inexpensive handsets is a function of wireless infrastructures being simpler to install, and carriers’ commitments to volume sales that overcome low margins. Lesson: Economy handset fleets should be more attractive in rural areas here, too, especially in businesses that rely on personal mobility (on site technicians, for example). Low land line density for phone and internet makes it easier to get things done through a handset, and while carriers have no motivation to make handsets cheaper here, high market penetration in North America means they have to offer them if they want to compete.

2) Policies

Foreign markets provide an array of “What if?” scenarios that tell us what might happen if policies or government regulations change. Mobile communications is probably the most varied field in telecom. Every market has its own government-mandated quirks and unique carrier policies.You could write (and analysts have written) giant volumes about SIM card policies alone.

Example: In the UK, “box breaking” occurs when a consumer unlocks the SIM cards of phones and resells them at a profit in another market. Carriers dislike the practice, but it’s legal. Lesson: Thanks to box breaking, UK dealers are conservative with subsidies and have begun incorporating various policies to limit the practice, including mandatory minutes and detailed tracking procedures to follow the phone’s status. If unlocking SIM cards becomes a mainstream North American practice, carriers here will have to use the same methods.

3) Penetration

Other markets are an excellent way to look at various penetration levels. Europe and Asia are the primary focus here because they include regions with higher penetration levels than North America. Parts of Europe are saturated to over 100% market because many consumers own more than one active handset.

Example: Some European markets have reached the apex of linear growth, so carriers increasingly emphasize new features and higher-end hardware. Mobile banking and purchases are just the tip of the iceberg; converged multifunction devices will be the rule, and not status symbols. Lesson:Â North American providers will have to follow their European counterparts when it comes to attracting business from people who mostly already own cell phones and need a further inducement to switch carriers.

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.