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How to reduce international roaming costs

By Jonathan Shaw, special to Network World
August 13, 2009 10:49 AM ET
This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Network World - For companies with employees traveling internationally, the ability to stay connected with mobile devices is imperative. Unfortunately, this generally means astronomical roaming fees. While domestic wireless calls in an optimized pooled plan can be as little as 5 cents per minute and "unlimited" data plans provide data connectivity at a fixed cost of $40 to $50 per month, international roaming usage charges for U.S. customers are typically around $1.50 per minute, 50 cents per SMS, and $5 to $10 per MB of data.

At these rates, it is easy for enterprise users to incur charges of $1,000 or more on a week-long business trip. The high cost of roaming services arises from international transport charges incurred by the home network provider (all calls, even incoming calls originating from the foreign country being visited, are routed via the home provider's network), the wholesale charges levied by the foreign network to the home wireless provider to originate/terminate the call on its network, and the significant pricing markups applied by all carriers involved.

However, enterprises can dramatically reduce international roaming costs by enforcing demand management, strategically selecting providers and plans and deploying technology solutions.

Demand management: Put a policy in place

The quickest way to reduce international roaming expenditures is through user education and behavior modification. Guidelines should be formalized in a wireless policy document and the enterprise should implement a wireless usage/invoice review process or use a solution to identify users who are not adhering to the policy. These guidelines may include:

* Reduce call length whenever feasible.

* Use landlines and/or calling cards for inbound and outbound calls when possible and cost-effective (e.g., don't use outbound calling at hotels). Note that international toll-free numbers targeted to internal users can further encourage this practice

* Physically turn the cell phone off whenever the user is not available to take calls. This decreases the likelihood of incurring dual international charges from the two-leg communication of the international call to the handset on the foreign network, and the forwarding of the call from the handset back to the domestic voice mail server.

* Avoid unnecessarily downloading attachments via cellular data in favor of waiting until a LAN or Wi-Fi connection is available.

* Disable automatic updates, background synchronizations or other applications that may automatically connect and utilize the foreign cellular network.

Obviously, employees should use these techniques only to the extent they do not impact business activities. But even with that proviso and without any form of enforcement activity, a typical enterprise can reduce its total wireless roaming charges by 20% simply through heightened employee awareness of the issue.

Select the right provider and international plan features

Some U.S. cellular providers have plan options that can reduce roaming usage charges for a fixed monthly fee that is less than the roaming charges that are avoided. Options may include reduced voice rates, international data bundles and reduced messaging fees.

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