Avoid being caught unawares by your international data bill

Most executive travellers are well aware of the high cost of international roaming – and few are unable to avoid it.

December 10, 2013

By Craig Lowe, execMobile

Most executive travellers are well aware of the high cost of international roaming – and few are unable to avoid it. Whilst the cost of local data has never been lower, South African mobile users often have to pay well over R100 per MB (close to R100,000 per GB) to use data in other countries. In fact, international roaming rates have become such a high profile issue globally that the European Commission had to step in to lower roaming charges in the European Union.

Unfortunately, businesses are built on connectivity and every discerning executive needs (at the very least) access to email and Internet, not to mention data-hungry applications such as video conferencing or calling. This has meant that bills amounting to tens of thousands of rands, accumulated in a matter of days, have become the norm and many companies are scrambling to find the funding needed to cover these unexpected “bill shocks”. An estimated 38% of business travellers are so fearful of these bills that they turn off their phones while travelling, and others are forced to use out-dated and ineffective alternatives, such as buying local SIMs or using unsecured public Wi-Fi.

However, public Wi-Fi in hotels is increasingly not an option for many corporates because of the security concerns associated with them. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are also getting more and more congested because of the increase in the number of devices carried by people, resulting in slower download rates. Access is often in public areas, which lowers employees’ productivity.

Local SIM cards similarly come with their own difficulties – most of us are familiar with RICA legislation in South Africa, and there are similar legislative barriers in other countries. Perhaps more worrying is the fact that, with a local SIM, the employee loses his/her mobile phone number whilst travelling – which in the mobile-driven world equates to losing one’s identity. There is also the inconvenience of waiting between 2-24 hours for the SIM to activate.

The challenge therefore lies in empowering employees to be more productive while mitigating risk with smart roaming connectivity alternatives. There are several steps that companies can follow to do so:

1. Implementing a roaming connectivity policy

Several South African corporates have already instituted roaming connectivity policy, which is becoming an international trend for companies that have embraced a mobile workforce, utilising cloud based services. Policy ensures finance, HR and IT departments work together to select solutions which benefit the company and empower employees while travelling internationally. It also ensures full line of site of costs, while employees know exactly what options are available to them when travelling abroad. Importantly, a roaming policy will limit business risk, both in terms of security and costs.

2. Use a device such as PocketWiFi for a secure connection

Using a solution like PocketWifi offers personal secure data connectivity at a fraction of the cost of local mobile operators’ offerings. Companies can therefore mitigate unexpected expenditure by setting monthly spend limits or utilising an affordable fixed daily costs for unlimited data. This enables corporates to budget based on finite costs or know days abroad. Monitoring systems can now also provide detailed user information, including device battery level, the number of connected devices, mobile network signal strength and data usage. Companies can even prevent streaming based services (music or video content delivery) if needed.

In turn, the employee gets instant Internet access anytime, anywhere and from any mobile device without having to be concerned about security or the risk of data loss. The employer on the other hand is able to budget for essential connectivity costs abroad.

3. Do not be indifferent to costs

Part of the reason that roaming costs tend to skyrocket is that 18% of executives never see their bills – leaving the finance department scrambling to find the funds to cover unexpected expenses. Using a secure online roaming solution, the finance team can set up alerts and budgets to ensure better control over executive spending. This will enable them to shut down or warn employees when data roaming charges reaches a certain point.

There is no reason why data roaming charges should throw your company’s budget off-kilter. Small steps can slash your bills by up to 90%, with very little risk or investment, whilst still remaining productive and present online.