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Wireless TEM: Why Managing Mobile Phones Is Different

This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Business Communications Review

Just this year, I have become convinced that cellular phone services bring unique challenges to the world of telecom expense management (TEM). Coming to this conclusion was a gradual process, and I still remember thinking that cell phone bills and rate plans could just be lumped in with all the other contracted services and circuits that traditional TEM packages help to manage.

Oh, sure, maybe the PC Support group managed the cellular devices, while the Network or Telecom Group managed the contracts for services, but those separate silos happen all the time in large organizations. That couldn’t be the only reason that a customer would select two separate expense management tools.

At the same time, I knew cellular expenses were significant, and I already suspected that mobile devices would replace PBX station hardware in the foreseeable future. These devices are gaining more features and ease of use all the time, as I wrote earlier this year (see BCR, March 2007, pp. 44–49).

It was also obvious to me that carriers and enterprise customers had begun pursuing in-building cellular coverage, via picocells and femtocells, to the extent that these options look to displace the early lead that 802.11 wireless data may have gotten in adding voice over Wi-Fi, or Vo-Fi (also see this article).

Looking ahead, as in-building cellular becomes an alternative for more enterprises, carriers may decide to offer fixed monthly costs for in-building services. In the meantime, cellular usage is clearly growing rather than diminishing, and so are the costs to provide it.

In retrospect, I think I overlooked the uniqueness of wireless TEM partly because I had my radar so closely focused on wireline TEM products and services. These keep getting better and better and I figured they could handle any special challenges that a wireless invoice might present. It seemed to me there was an applicable wireline TEM product component for every wireless challenge out there. But I was overlooking the unique issues associated with the management of mobile devices and with the cost management of cellular services (Table 1).

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