Mobile Madness: How Do I Choose a Business Cell Plan?

Technological blessing. Necessary evil. Now that cellphones do more than ever before, plans are changing to keep up.
Mobile Madness: How Do I Choose a Business Cell Plan?
If your current or planned use is strictly to call your workers in the field while you’re in the office — or take those calls when you’re in the field yourself — you can go with the most basic phones and the most basic service plans.

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If your business isn’t using cellphones, it’s probably time to rethink that. Whether you view them as a technological blessing or a necessary evil, mobile phones have become so universal that they’re now expected tools when doing business. 

Now, not just cellphones, but smartphones are rapidly becoming the preferred option — although they aren’t always necessary (yet). 

Whether you’re with a carrier now or shopping for one for the first time, it’s wise first to establish just what sort of service you need when it comes to mobile. And you might also want to consider what changes you might expect to make within the next two years. 

That’s because once you sign up for a contract, that’s how long you’re likely to be committed to your current carrier; if you suddenly decide you want to switch carriers, you’ll incur hundreds of dollars in penalties for breaking the agreement early. 

What level of service?

If your current or planned use is strictly to call your workers in the field while you’re in the office — or take those calls when you’re in the field yourself — you can go with the most basic phones and the most basic service plans. 

A step up is to include a text messaging package. That’s another service possible with all but the most rudimentary cellphones.

You might think of texting as simply what teenagers do to keep up on gossip or plan a trip to the mall — but it goes well beyond that. Some work teams prefer to communicate by text messages rather than by phone. Although creating and sending a message can be more tedious (at least, until you master the 21st century skill of typing with your thumbs), the recipient can often take in and respond to a text more quickly than to a voicemail message. 

If you include text messaging at all, your biggest challenge is going to be accurately measuring how much you’re using it. Of course that’s true of all aspects of your service — more on that in a moment. And to make sure workers aren’t texting while driving, which is becoming devastatingly dangerous — and even fatal. 

Nowadays, however, it’s typical for people to get email and even browse the Web on their mobile phones. That means you’ll need to add a data package to your plan — and that also means you’ll need to go with a smartphone — an iPhone, an Android phone, a Blackberry or a Windows phone. Data will add a lot to the cost of your monthly bill, but if you’re buying a smartphone through your carrier, you can expect to be required to include a data plan. 

How much do you need?

Whether you’re measuring voice minutes, text messages or data bytes, the biggest challenge will be measuring how much you’ll use every month. 

If you’re not sure, start by overestimating, then watch your bills closely for how your actual usage compares with what you’re paying for. Although you can’t quit your carrier mid-contract without paying a lot of money, carriers usually let you switch within their plan options as your needs change. 

For instance, if you’ve signed up for 1,400 voice minutes a month and you only use 500, you can probably drop down to the next tier of minutes (depending on your carrier). 

Yes, you have spent more money than you would have otherwise on those unused minutes — but that’s almost certain to be a cheaper mistake than not buying enough minutes to begin with. Charges in excess of the included minutes in your plan tend to get pricey very quickly. 

The same basic principle applies with data and text messaging: Paying for more than you need at first is generally cheaper than using more than you are paying for up front. And if down the road your usage start’s rising, you can upgrade to more minutes a month. 

The same is true with text messaging and especially data. 

At the same time, though, there is a new wrinkle in cell plans. Most carriers now are steering customers to plans that include more data, and couple that with unlimited talk and text. If you expect to use a lot of data, you’ll probably end up in one of those plans. And depending on your balance of talk, text and data use, you’re likely to benefit from these new price structures.

Picking your phone

Finally, a word about the phones. The main reason so many of us now carry smartphones is that our carriers have priced them cheap — sometimes free — in return signing us up for long-term contracts. You can buy the phones without the contract obligation, but you’ll pay anywhere from $400 to $700 for that privilege. 

Now, though, there’s a new trend emerging. You could think of it as “renting” your phone. Several carriers now promise that, instead of one big upfront fee (even if it is discounted because you’re signing a cellphone contract) and a phone that you must stick with for two years, you’ll be able to change phones more often instead of paying a monthly fee. That may still obligate you to hang on to the same phone, but not for as long as the life of your contract. 

If you do the math, you’ll find that adding up 18 months of those monthly fees might approach the price of the phone at retail without a contract. On the plus side, you can get a technology upgrade faster, no small advantage in this era when new innovations are coming in at breakneck speed. But on the downside, you’ll never stop paying for your phone at all. 

You’ll have to decide if it’s worth it.


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