Avoid the $180-per-user-per-year 3G rip-off

Carriers charge more for corporate email access than personal email access, even though it comes from the same bucket of data you bought

If you have a business smartphone data plan with your carrier, chances are you're paying $180 per user per year more than you have to. The reason? The major wireless carriers charge $15 extra per month on some or all of their 3G data plans for access to corporate email, meaning Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, or GroupWise.

Why? After all, the plans are sold in tranches of usage, so why does it cost $15 more to get, say, 2GB of data if you use corporate email versus personal email (POP or IMAP accounts) only? The probable answer of course is that corporate email servers are chattier, checking in more often due to their push-email approaches than personal email servers do. And employees probably get higher volumes of mail on corporate accounts, so their usage is higher.

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Here's the pricing schemes from the major U.S. carriers for smartphone 3G data plans:

Carrier"Personal" rates"Corporate" rates
AT&T200MB: $15

2GB: $25

4GB: $45
2GB: $30

4GB: $60

Sprint"unlimited"*: $20"unlimited"*: $60
T-Mobile200MB: $10

2GB: $20

5GB: $30

10GB: $60

Verizon Wireless2GB: $30

5GB: $50

10GB: $80
2GB: $45

5GB: $50

10GB: $80
*Sprint will throttle your data speed if it determines your usage is "excessive."

**T-Mobile is revamping its business plans and so has not posted current prices; previously, there was a $10 surcharge for business users.

The carriers' game: Surcharges based on what you use the 3G access for
So what? If you're paying for 2GB, you should get 2GB, no matter how you use it. But the carriers are playing a game, knowing that when you buy 2GB of data for personal usage, you're likely to consume less than 1GB, whereas if you buy it for corporate usage, you'll likely take more. So the business plans hike the cost to cover that usage difference.

That's the same reason carriers charge different amounts for the same tranche of data based on the device you use. As Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Raney put it, "The reality is a person using a smartphone can access the Internet, get email, and do any number of data-centric activities, but the overall usage doesn't compare to a person using a modem with a laptop or a laptop with an embedded modem." That's also the justification carriers trot out for charging extra for tethering, based on the notion that tethering makes the smartphone into a 3G modem, accessed by a computer that by nature uses radically more amounts of data than a smartphone alone.

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