An answer to complex wireless billing

It's not easy to deploy wireless services, but it's even tougher to sort through the growing numbers of wireless service bills. Software from Traq-wireless is helping one company better manage its wireless service bills and identify cheaper alternatives. An analyst says it's a market that's growing, especially as data services become more prevalent.

While wireless deployment can be challenging, the very basic task of managing monthly billing for voice and data

services can, ironically, be an even more daunting task for many companies.

Traq-wireless Inc. claims that its Mobile Communication Management software can help companies get a handle on their wireless bills. The service analyzes a three-month period of usage and helps companies purchase more cost-effective service plans for its users, said Jim Offerdahl, CEO of the Austin, Texas-based mobile management company.

Simple as it may seem, wireless billing presents a real problem, said Peter Firstbrook, a senior analyst with the Stamford, Conn.-based research firm, Meta Group.

"Most businesses are really pathetic at managing their own bills. Most don't pay any attention at all," he said, so companies pay for minutes their employees don't need. In other instances, they pay for extra calls outside of the minute plan at high rates.

Any system that helps businesses get a better understanding of their wireless bills is going to help save money, he said.

Flowserve Corp. is a perfect example. The Dallas-based manufacturer of pumps, valves and other flow management products saved $243,000 in 2002 by using Traq's system, said Pieter Schoehuijs, director of worldwide IT infrastructure for Flowserve.

Prior to using Traq's software, Flowserve went over wireless bills in spreadsheets by hand to look for mistakes and to flag those individuals who had relatively high usage. That system was time consuming and error-prone, Schoehuijs said.

Also, wireless plans changed with such regularity that it was hard to keep track of the newest offerings. Even if a cheaper alternative was available, the company often did not know about it, he said.

In addition, each of the thousand users received a courtesy copy of their wireless bill. Mailing addresses were often incorrect and, every month, as many as 100 bills piled up on Schoehuijs' associate's desk -- bills that needed to be rerouted.

Now, using Traq's system, the company has its wireless provider, AT&T, send an electronic copy of its bill to Traq. Traq then analyzes its customers' cell phone usage and compares the data to updated information about available rate plans. In some cases, Traq recommends changes, though it usually does not recommend that companies change carriers, because that would require users to change mobile phone numbers, Offerdahl said.

Traq also posts courtesy copies of each user's bill online, saving time and money.

Schoehuijs said the entire process has helped to bring the company's wireless costs and billing processes under control.

Flowserve is also piloting various wireless data services. When those services are deployed to a wider group in the company, Flowserve will use Traq to help manage those bills also, Schoehuijs said.

Wireless data is an area that Traq is gearing up for. Wide area wireless data billing has all of the same problems that voice does and more, Offerdahl said.

Managing wireless data bills is likely to be a challenge, Meta Group's Firstbrook said, because right now carriers bill by the megabyte, and most users don't have any sense as to how much data makes up a megabyte. A service such as this can go a long way toward helping companies to pay only for what they use, and not for buckets of megabytes and minutes that go unused, Firstbrook said.

Traq is not alone in targeting this market. While it is an early leader, Firstbrook said, other contenders have already taken notice. Denver-based Digital Reliance Inc. and Oakville, Ontario -based Avotus Corp. are both targeting mobile bill management.

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