Smart BYOD Users May Help Businesses Control Telecom Costs

Even in the age of BYOD, I am betting that in most enterprises telecom costs are still considered such an essential expense that they don't get much scrutiny. The "I just need to connect" excuse probably still works in many cases, with plenty of mobile workers overpaying on their telecom costs to ensure always-there connectivity.

But there is a new wave of telecom brewing, and Tuesday's announcements from T-Mobile about its no-contract plans for the U.S. market may cause a shock wave to spread throughout enterprise mobile workforces. Specifically, I am wondering if smart BYOD users who pick up on the lower cost, no-contract plans will start a movement of greater scrutiny and more experimentation when it comes to mobile telecom expenses, a huge budgetary black hole for many enterprises right now.

Why is it such a black hole? Because of several factors, including the random but always critical need to be absolutely positively connected at certain times. Anyone who's been mobile on a work assignment knows what I mean: You are on the road, usually somewhere unfamilar, when you get a call, text or email saying that you need to do something -- send a message, fix a spreadsheet -- and you need to get that info somewhere else, right now. So no matter what it costs to connect, you do it -- because the cost of possible lost business is so great that it outweighs even the highest hotel-hostage Wi-Fi charges.

Cellular carriers have catered to this need, and for years their "unlimited" data plans were the mobile worker no-brainer. Though many users probably didn't need unlimited voice, text and data, it was an easy business decision to expense because of its predictability. Only $70 or $80 a month to stay always connected? That's easy to get approved.

But now, many cellular carriers -- including the big two in the U.S. market, AT&T and Verizon -- no longer offer the unlimited data plans. While it may net the big carriers more cash in the short run, in the long term the decision to eliminate unlimited has opened the doors to innovative approaches like T-Mobile's, as well as more radical offerings likeRepublic Wireless's $19-per-month all-you-can-eat plan that uses Wi-Fi most of the time. There are also Wi-Fi network subscriptions from services like iPass and Boingo that let enterprises make sure their field forces are connecting on the best networks at predictable prices.

I did like to hear T-Mobile execs talking about how customers need to educate themselves on the bad economics of the "traditional" 2-year cellular contract, which for many ends up being much longer and you end up paying way more for your "free" phone than you ever would if you had bought it outright. I bet the first wave of cost-cutting in enterprise telecom costs comes from BYOD users, who figure out on their own how to not spend so much but still stay connected. Unfortunately for those of you who say "just expense it" to whatever phone bill you receive, your days are numbered -- or at least, your reimbursements probably are.

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