On November 24th the cell phone companies have been ordered by the US government to allow you to switch vendors but retain your phone number. This should make the migration from one carrier to another much less painful and less risky than it has historically been.
There is clearly pent up demand in people who are upset with their cell phone service provider. Ive spent the last week informally asking people if they were going to change wireless providers on or after the 24th and come to the conclusion that T-Mobile is likely to be the big winner in the small business segment. While the survey is anecdotal, my review of their plan shows they are addressing some key needs not yet addressed by the other vendors. T-Mobile may experience some initial loading problems, so you need to understand the why T-Mobile is so attractive and also when to time your movement so you arent part of the fist huge wave.
The biggest advantage T-Mobile has is how they deal with data networking. While most cell phone based wireless data services charge you by the amount of data you send and receive, T-Mobile is rolling out a $19.95 all you can eat data program. If you want WiFi, for access their 3300 locations it is another $19.95 so for about $40 you get unlimited data regardless of whether it is WiFi or cell phone based. One of the big negatives for firms thinking of allowing cellular data communications was the belief that employees would quickly run up huge cell phone bills by trying to do software updates, download personal email or images.
As a result, with few exceptions, companies have generally been staying away from allowing employees to use their business cell phone accounts for data. In addition, firms havent been rushing to allow the expensing of WiFi connectivity either, primarily because the cost of monitoring and administering yet another expense across all of their employees is something they try to avoid. T-Mobile has rolled with a plan to charge a flat $20 each for WiFi and WAN (cell phone) wireless data. Thats a flat $40 for both.
-Mobiles Impressive Wireless Data Fee Structure”> This flat fee structure contains both costs and does not create one more additional billing entity making for an attractive solution. The costs break down as follows:
- A sole proprietor or individual would pay $40 for 600 anytime minutes and unlimited Friday and Weekend calling while a small business of up to 4 people has a choice of two calling programs.
- For $70 a month for two lines plus $10 a month for each additional (4 phone lines would be $90) the company gets 800 pooled minutes and unlimited weekend minutes for every phone.
- $30 more raises this to 1,200 minutes (which is likely the preferred size for a company of 4) so your cell phone bill for a company of 4 per month with all you can eat data would be $120 for the phone and $160 for the data (assuming all employees used the data access). Thats $280 for a shop of 4 or $70 per employee including unlimited data and 6 hours per employee of talk time.
- This drops to $50 per employee, or $60 for a sole proprietor, if you only need one of the two wireless choices which is actually more likely.
This flat fee structure for data will likely appeal to large business, and should make the next few months rather interesting for the US domestic cell phone market.
Now it is hard to believe that Sprint, AT&T mobile and the rest are going to roll over to T-Mobile, so expect some aggressive pricing from them to try to hold onto their installed base. Unfortunately for them only T-Mobile has WiFi coverage, making it very difficult for any other vendor, without partnering (which may have billing and pricing implications), to match. However, if there is a broad move to T-Mobile, network loading could pass acceptable levels for voice and/or data. Thats been the case here in California with Cingular, proving that having a low price for a device that seldom works isnt a bargain at all.
Therefore, while I still think T-Mobile will likely benefit the most from this move, dont jump during the first month or two. Instead, before you abandon your current vendor, wait until the dust settles to see how loaded the network gets, and what the competitive responses. You might even be able to swing a good deal without changing providers at all.