Feature Article

December 06, 2012

Companies Grapple with Rising International Roaming Costs

Do you ever wonder how much companies with employees who engage in a lot of international travel cope with their mobile roaming charges? The answer is, “With a lot of pain and cash.” On average, companies spend over $120 per mobile employee each month. As employees use more apps and have more abilities to operate critical business processes on their phones, the amount of bandwidth they use goes up, and so do the costs.

In other words, while it’s nice that your call center manager can keep track of critical call center processes on his or her mobile device while traveling to Mumbai, chances are, it’s costing you a fortune. Have a large sales force that uses a lot of roaming minutes? Expect to pay through the nose. 

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According to a new study, the problem is only getting worse, as international roaming charges are on the rise (in addition to the amount of bandwidth needed and the number of apps).

The study, “The International Roaming Problem: How to Balance Cost, Connectivity, and Security Concerns,” was carried out by CCMI and commissioned by Truphone, an international mobile business operator. The report was based on research gathered following a survey of more than 200 midmarket and enterprise companies, and it examines how these companies are attempting to control escalating international wireless roaming costs.

The most popular method to try and keep costs under control is modifying employee behavior in international mobile phone use, but the report indicates that this may be of limited success. Other important findings from the study include:

  • 34 percent of midmarket and enterprise companies are spending more than $1,000 per month per user on international wireless costs. Fifteen percent reported spending more than $2,500 per user per month.
  • 52 percent of companies surveyed have a specific company mandate in place to reduce their international roaming costs.
  • Behavior modification strategies helps on the billing front: 26 percent described these efforts as “very successful,” and 43 percent said they were “moderately successful.”

“The cost of international roaming isn’t exclusive to large, Fortune 1000 companies,” said George David, president of CCMI in a statement announcing the study. “This report tells us that a single strategy, such as modifying user behavior, isn’t enough to strike the right balance between cost savings and ease of use.” He added, “Companies of all sizes must explore alternatives to find the solution that allows for mobile productivity while controlling roaming costs,” he added.

Some industry experts recommend a permissions-based system that blocks employees from certain mobile applications if they don’t really need them, and also requiring that they use free or low-cost VoIP solutions such as Skype.

Many companies are also encouraging their employees to use services such as Skype Wi-Fi, a pay-per-minute app that allows users to connect their smartphones to available Wi-Fi services and then make international calls at low flat rates using Skype credit. With Wi-Fi readily available in most offices, Internet cafes and even coffee shops, employees are seldom far from a connection that will allow them to avoid carrier’s international roaming fees.

If employees are unlikely to be in places with a convenient Starbucks’s nearby, they can rent what’s known as a portable “Wi-Fi bubble.” London-based Tep Wireless, a smartphone rental company, allows travelers to rent a pocket-sized Wi-Fi device that connects to local cellular signals (it works in 16 European countries) and allows travelers to use Wi-Fi on up to five devices.

Finding similar local solutions to cut wireless roaming charges may take a bit of research, but it’s well worth avoiding the “sticker shock” that comes with four-digit (or more) cell phone bills.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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