This story from California about a US service man getting a $16,098 phone bill from his wireless cell phone company got me thinking on three different levels.
First, I thought that could easily happen to my phone bill since I have two sons about the same age as the US soldier in the story who both use their cell phones for just about everything you can think of except talking.
Second, what was the guy really doing with his phone that jacked the bill up so high and do I or any of my employees do the same thing?
Third, are there any safety measures set up on my own business wireless cell phone accounts (I use Verizon for seven business cell phones) to prevent the same sort of "bill shock" from showing up in my mailbox next month.
How Much Data Does the Average Employee Use or Need Every Month?
Surprisingly little I think. I honestly had no idea (nor did I seem to think I needed to care) since I still had Verizon's "unlimited" data plan on most of my businesses smart phones.
After printing out the summary pages of my business cell phone bill for the last four months I discovered that for seven business cell phones the total was under five gigs of data per month total. The range was quite large though as my own personal data use was under 200 megs a month (just 20% of one gig) while my oldest employee (over 70 years old) used seven times what I used at 1.4 gigs.
(It took me a while to discover what "business use" a desk bound 70-year old employee would have for 1.4 gigs of data usage per month. We narrowed it down to either streaming Pandora radio for several hours per day and/or the Scrabble dictionary app.)
I was somewhat relieved to discover though that even the most data hungry power users I knew (all three of my teenage kids and even my brother-in-law who's always video-Skyping his kids from the road) used under 2 gigs a month each - a lot of data but certainly manageable - I think (right?)
How Do You Create a $16,098 Cell Phone Bill?
So now that I've got a handle on my own business cell phone and data usage I go back to thinking, "How'd this poor US serviceman jack up his cell phone bill to over $16,000?" Well if you read the story, it turns out the guy used 1.6 gigs of data in just six days while on leave visiting his parents.
How do you use 1.6 gigs of wireless data in just six days? Well I searched the Internet to see how much one activity or another can use up just one gig of data and it seems like it's not all that difficult (though I'm not sure you could do it accidentally).
This article suggests that you can use up 1 gig of data on your phone by:
1. Streaming a Netflix movie for two hours,
2. Listening to Pandora (online radio) for sixteen hours, or
3. Skype video-conferencing for four hours
But how does slightly above-average data use (my kids burn up 1.5 gigs per month and this service man did it in six days) turn into a $16,00 phone bill? The kid in the story used his 1.6 gigs of data while "roaming" outside his normal service area. Yikes!
What Part of Your Business Phone Bill is Set Up to Prevent "Bill Shock"?
Well I thought I was protected from such a similar occurrence because I still have "unlimited data" on my smartphones. Well I do but it turns out I don't have unlimited data "roaming". Fortunately I don't roam that much, but like the kid in the news story, I also don't pay much attention to whether I'm roaming or not when I go to use my phone.
So I called Verizon Wireless customer service to find out how I can prevent an accidental overage like this on my own account. It turns out that there really is very little that Verizon is going to do other than to send me an email or text when I first go over my new monthly data allocation. (I'm switching from unlimited to their 6 gig shared data plan). It turns out that the data on my account does not get shut off after seven people use up six gigs of data in a month, the meter keeps running at $15 per gig (until someone notices a $16,00 phone bill I guess!)
What Do You Need to Do to Protect Your Business?
Don't wait for a $16,000 phone bill. Put someone in charge of making sure that doesn't happen. Write a memo. Terminate all cell phones (or maybe just try one of the following).
1. Learn how much mobile data your employees use on average each month. This is fairly easy to do by simply reviewing the summary page of the cell phone bill. To convert "kilobytes" to "gigabytes" you need to divide the kilobyte total by 1,024 twice. (kilobytes/1024=megabytes, megabytes/1024=gigabytes)
2. Learn what mobile apps your employees are running that uses data. You can kind of guess at this (or take your employees word for it that it's all important business stuff) or you can have your employees install a data usage app like Onavo Count and then have them report their own usage on a monthly basis on their expense report.
3. Write a mobile business data usage policy and then let all your employees know what it is. Is it OK for employees to listen to Pandora all day? What about uploading photos or video even if it's business related -- should they do that right away using 3G/4G or wait until they get into an area with WiFi connectivity?
4. Put someone in charge of preventing $16,000 phone bills. The days of unlimited smartphone data usage are behind us. Fairly simple apps now exist for any smartphone that report month-to-date data usage. But while you can certainly require/ask/plead that your employees track and moderate their own data usage, you still need to have someone also look at your business data usage on a daily basis because it just takes one employee to turn their smartphone into a video baby monitor to wreck your businesses cell phone bill next month.
Or You Can Just Call Us!
As you know, we solve phone and office technology problems for a living. If your business has under 100 mobile devices then we can set up a monthly review and recommendation solution to have one of our mobile phone bill experts review and report on your phone service once a month.
If your business has over 100 mobile devices we can introduce you to a couple vendors we trust that specialize in monitoring mobile device usage spread over several mobile phone companies.
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