Mobile Trends: Analyst offers his $.02 on wireless billing

Wireless deployments, whether voice or data, often are expensive not because the services are overpriced, but because the monthly billing is so poorly managed.

Wireless service bills tend to be much smaller than wireline bills, so they get less attention, said Peter Firstbrook, a senior analyst with the Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Meta Group. He also said rate plans change regularly, and the plans are so different that it can be almost impossible to compare one carrier's plan with another.

Often, users pay for minutes that they never use. Some never have enough minutes and, as a result, pay exorbitant fees every month when they go over their allotted call time. Additionally, many companies let employees buy their own phones and choose their own plans, then reimburse them for the purchase, which takes away from a company's ability to negotiate as a large business user.

Consequently, the per-minute cost of a wireless call can be very high, and companies pay far more for their wireless plans, whether these are voice or data, than they should, Firstbrook said.

Now, a number of companies are offering services that handle wireless billing for organizations. Most of these companies analyze a few months' worth of usage patterns, compare them with the most up-to-date calling plans and recommend changes that would save the company money.

Many of these companies are showing results. Traq-wireless Inc., based in Austin, Texas, saved one customer $240,000 in

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its first year. MindWireless Inc., a similar company based in Houston, found that one company could save 35% on its wireless bill. Others, including Denver-based Digital Reliance Inc. and Oakville, Ontario-based Avotus Corp., are targeting mobile bill management.

As data services join the mix and users begin to make purchases with their phones using Bluetooth, Firstbrook said, these services will become even more valuable.

"More companies will be forced to pay more attention to their cell phone bills. They'll have to be accountable," he said.

This was first published in June 2003

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