Slaying the mobile telecom expense monster

IT passions run high about roping in roaming fees and other cellular charges for employees' smartphones and tablets

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Again, if you're deploying an MDM tool -- rather than using the essentially free built-in capabilities of an Exchange server -- and you have a segment of your users who travel internationally a lot, it makes sense to favor a TEM-oriented MDM tool to monitor international roaming. But you're less likely to be able to take advantage of lower-cost carrier international roaming plans at that small scale. And it's harder to justify the reliance on a single carrier for your mobile employees that you would need to enter those discussions.

In fact, at this scale, a single-carrier plan can cost you much more than a BYOD approach. You'll need to run the numbers, but where BYOD tends to win out is if your employees use family plans. The typical family plan charges $15 (including taxes) per additional line and may require an increase in allowable minutes if people talk a lot. If you set your BYOD reimbursement to $20 for voice, that would map to the typical out-of-pocket cost in this scenario. (Yes, I know that appears to favor families over singles and childless couples, but remember that family plans aren't restrcited to people at the same address, so singles and couples can add siblings, parents, cousins, and so on to achieve the same discounts.)

Then there's the data cost. The math is different here; we don't yet have family plans for data usage, just flat tiers per device. You may save some money if you get data plans in bulk from a carrier, but remember that many carriers tack on $10 per month per use for "corporate email" (one of the greatest ripoffs ever). A user who gets his or her own device and signs up for the standard data plan avoids that surcharge. Plus, data plans require explicit permission to renew if used within their contract period, so the spectre of heavy users unknowingly running up huge overage bills is a nonissue -- they have to agree to buy more data, and a company should have a policy that it enforces about that.

After you've done the math, can you get a better deal from your carrier? If so,  and if its areas of decent coverage map to where your employees are, the carrier may be a better option. Just be sure to monitor the bills -- a feature you get for free in a BYOD scenario where employees pay the bill.

When a carrier roaming plan doesn't make sense, remember that travelers can easily pick up foreign SIMs when traveling (often at the airport or near their hotel), and reuse them when they go back to a country.

Some people tell me executives are too stupid or lazy to do this. If they are, they shouldn't be execs, especially if they're running a smaller company where everyone needs to be versatile. They may need help the first time, and they may need an assistant to do the legwork for them (such as order them the SIM or have it ready at their hotel), but that doesn't mean they can't pop out a SIM, pop in the country-specific one, and activate their device, or have whoever is accompanying them do it. Let's be honest: It's no more work than getting foreign currency or renting a car, which presumably they are expected and trusted to do. Europeans frequently carry multiple SIMs to deal with the roaming-charges issue, and there's no reason Americans and Canadians can't do the same.

If you have a small number of mobile employees
This is the easiest case. Go all-BYOD, establish reimbursement policies, and educate users about pitfalls -- and consequences -- of international data roaming.

Develop the right strategy for your specific situation
No matter how many users you have, employees have brains and should be expected to use them. The more people involved, the more it makes sense to augment how you manage those people with technology tools. And the more it can make sense to handle the whole purchasing and provisioning effort centrally. Just don't apply the vendors' use cases blindly to your situation.

Every company is different and should think through its purchasing, management, policy, and technology strateges accordingly. If you don't, the total cost of management is likely to be much higher than what you save from that management.

This article, "Slaying the mobile telecom expense monster," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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