Low Cost Mobile Options for the Enterprise

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Low Cost Mobile Options
for the Enterprise

by Nancy Nicolaisen

Docid: 00021372

Publication Date: 1801

Report Type: TUTORIAL


Enterprise mobility planners face many challenges: Rising costs,
rapidly evolving requirements, and the often chaotic environment of BYOD
(bring your own device) business computing and communications. These
factors create real pain points for IT professionals tasked with fielding
a mobile workforce. However, they are also giving rise to a novel,
downscale mobile business process solution: Pairing pre-owned devices and
pre-paid carrier plans for “perfect fit” niche solutions and big cost

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Perhaps the biggest advantage to business in adopting a mobile
“pre-owned/pre-paid” strategy is that it represents a middle ground
between the expense of providing enterprise users with identical devices
running on the same platform or having to be flexible enough to deal with
any number of different employee-supplied devices. Although it may
not be the best way to serve every worker – especially in large
corporations – it certainly makes sense in terms of secure device
management and cost containment for “corridor warriors,” international
travelers, and short term workers.

Buying smartphones in the reseller marketplace offers real cost savings
and the opportunity to have access to devices that major US carriers don’t
offer. In addition, if well chosen, they can provide a great deal of
flexibility because many aren’t tied to any carrier or airtime plan
contract. They can be used as much or as little as necessary, and many are
fully compatible with the carrier networks in use outside the US.

Pre-paid airtime plans offer enterprises the maximum flexibility in an
uncertain economic climate. They also allow very effective cost and
risk containment against threats like overage charges and international
surcharges, both of which are notorious mobility cost inflaters. Most
attractive, however, is that with a pre-paid plan you can buy exactly what
you want – no more, and no less – in a very competitive
marketplace. In a best case scenario, by using an unlocked phone and
a pre-paid airtime plan the consumer has unparalleled flexibility and
absolute cost control.

For a pre-owned/pre-paid strategy to deliver the best returns, focus on
GSM user devices and airtime providers. In the US, there are two top
tier GSM carriers: AT&T and T Mobile. However, many niche
providers piggyback on their cell towers, and the pre-paid GSM niche
airtime providers are some of the most competitive and innovative in the


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In today’s technology and business climate, enterprise mobility planners
face many challenges: Rising costs, explosively growing demand, and
the often chaotic environment of BYOD (bring your own device) business
computing and communications. There is no denying that fielding a
mobile workforce can involve some real pain points for the enterprise. In
this report we take a look at the convergence of a few costly problems
that are giving rise to a novel, “downscale” enterprise solution: Pairing
pre-owned devices with pre-paid carrier plans to achieve “perfect fit”
niche solutions and reap big cost savings.

Problem #1 Roaming Costs Can Be Predatory for International
Business Travelers.
Mobile business processes are coming to
rely on an “always on, always connected” work style. This has both risks
and benefits. On the one hand, savvy use of enterprise mobility tools can
give workers the edge by allowing them to complete deals faster, provide
improved customer support and receive actionable business intelligence in
timely, location-aware fashion. On the other hand, mobile workers, and
most particularly mobile workers that travel internationally or make a lot
of international calls, are highly vulnerable to predatory levels of
roaming charges. Make one or two small mistakes in your device settings,
cross an international frontier, and the penalty can amount to thousands
of dollars in roaming charges for trivial device use. Even more worrisome,
verifiable stories of egregious charges issue from people who did
follow instructions for properly configuring their devices, but were
victimized by passive WiFi or Bluetooth connections. US carrier companies
do sometimes work with customers by halving unfair roaming charges, but
that may still leave $1000-plus mobile phone bills.

Problem #2 Workers Come and Go, But Phone Contracts Are Immortal:
A mobile phone contract is nearly impossible to get out of. Or, more
accurately, it’s not that hard to get out of, but it will cost you. A
lot. Typically, customers buying out a two year contract have to pay
a significant fraction of the total remaining costs for the contract term,
repay device subsidies, and pay an arcanely formulated exit fee which is
billed over several months and is subject to exorbitant late
charges. The net: In the event that it is necessary to reduce the
size of the workforce, mobility costs can sting long after the people
using the devices are gone.

The Solution: Less Commitment, Lower Costs, More Pragmatism.
Unsurprisingly, businesses are beginning to employ a practice whose early
pioneers were parents of teens: Using pre-owned, unlocked mobile devices
paired with pay-as-you-go phone plans to get mobility, value, flexibility,
and protection against unwanted carrier charges. It also reduces the
sticker shock for high performance devices and makes it a little less
perturbing when they get broken or go missing. This strategy turns out to
be especially beneficial for the mobile business process, employees that
may not stay all that long (such as interns, temps, and contractors), and
those who don’t spend much time off premises but are seldom at a desk. One
very good reason to implement a pre-paid/pre-owned phone policy is to
accommodate and protect travelers, and especially international travelers,
many of whom might prefer to have separate phones for in- and
out-of-country work.

While pre-paid airtime plans aren’t for everyone, they can very
effectively limit exposure to exorbitant costs incurred through usage
overages, unintentional connections to chargeable services, and the like.
All niche pre-paid providers piggyback on the cell tower networks of the
big four ( Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T Mobile ), so in most metro
areas and transportation corridors they offer good coverage. Most
attractive, however, is that with a pre-paid plan you can buy exactly what
you want from the full menu of services – no more, and no less – in a very
competitive marketplace. In a best case scenario, using an unlocked
phone and a pre-paid airtime plan, the consumer has unparalleled
flexibility and absolute cost control. Exactly what is an unlocked phone?

  • Basically, an “unlocked” mobile phone can accept a separately
    purchased SIM card be immediately functional. (A SIM card – Subscriber
    Information Module – stores a user’s phone number and personal
    information.) In the US, AT&T and T Mobile use GSM, as do about 80
    percent of mobile carriers worldwide. SIM card standardization makes it
    a simple matter for GSM customers to swap airtime providers at will.
    Verizon and Sprint use a different transmission technology (CDMA) which
    is effectively a US-only solution. Not all carriers support all devices,
    even those running on the GSM protocol. However, the amount of crossover
    support should still make it easy to find a device that suits a given
    enterprise’s needs. 

At the Very Least, You Can Lose the Contract: Verizon
and Sprint have upped their respective games in the “No Contract” space.
They also offer some unlocked devices, and for users who don’t plan to
travel outside the U.S., these carriers offer cost effective mobility
choices as well as better coverage in underserved areas of the U.S.

Current View

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Buying Pre-Owned Mobile Phones

Up front caveat emptor: When buying pre-owned mobile phones there can be
gotchas. Avoid suspiciously cheap smartphone deals and anonymous
resellers. And be aware that there are limited options for moving iPhones
into pre-paid plans. Beyond those things, here are some keys to buying a
pre-owned device that delivers both value and flexibility:

  • Be well informed about what you want to buy.
  • Use reputable resellers that guarantee satisfaction or your money
  • Many carriers sell used, refurbished phones; this is a good place to
    start shopping.
  • If iPhone is high on the list of potential candidates, verify that the
    original battery has been replaced. If it hasn’t, request that service
    as an option.

Key Things to Know About Pay-As-You-Go Carrier Plans
Perhaps the key decision point for a business looking to reap savings by
shifting workers into pre-paid carrier services is the extent and quality
of coverage the carrier can provide. Some low cost carriers are
exclusively focused on large population centers and thus don’t offer good
coverage in rural or remote areas. Some have great data plans, but poor
voice quality. Some have great voice quality but relatively steep data
rates. Investigate, and get references.

Pre-paid plans are priced by minutes, days or months of use. They offer
value not just in terms of per unit price, but also in flexibility to buy
only the kinds, levels and duration of service necessary. Armed with a
good understanding of workers’ phone habits, this is a real opportunity to
slash carrier costs. Perhaps the biggest pre-paid bonus of all is the
freedom to keep from buying very costly things: Think overage
fees when minute, message, or data caps are exceeded on contract plans;
excessive roaming charges for travelers; and big surcharges for calling
mobile to mobile outside the country.

There are basically three tiers within the pre-paid carrier market:

  • Top tier pre-paid providers: The four major national
    carriers- Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T Mobile- all sell pre-paid
    services that are much like contract plans in both features and pricing.
    The key difference of which to be aware is that most pre-paid
    “everything” plans will enforce some type of capping or throttling on
    data use. The big four are likely to provide better coverage and user
    experience if workers travel outside their local area. The key benefit
    to these plans is that they can be terminated very rapidly and they
    shortstop accrual of overage charges for roaming or excess service use.
  • Middle Tier Pre-Paid Carriers: This group includes
    Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Cricket, US Cellular and Metro PCS. All of
    these piggy back either on AT&T, Verizon or Sprint. These plans pull
    market share from top tier providers by discounting and generally work
    best in urban areas.
  • Niche Market Providers: Several fairly small
    carriers provide some of the best deals in terms of pricing and plan
    flexibility. For example, H2O Wireless offers a 5 day unlimited talk and
    text plan for $10, a great option for travelers who don’t want to carry
    a high value phone. Others offer rock bottom prices on voice only or
    text only. Like the mid tiers, these providers piggy back on major
    carriers’ networks.


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Anti Social Media

The mobile device population is the largest and most porous attack surface
in any enterprise IT operation; It is the most difficult to secure; and it
where employees’ lifestyles, personal choices and online identities merge
with their work roles. This is

new breeding ground for brand
impacting issues that can arise suddenly and rapidly achieve huge scale.

This is what enterprise mobility strategists are up against:

  • A recent Deloitte survey reports that across all demographics, people
    check their phones 46 times per day.  For the 18-34 age group, it
    is close to double that.
  • About 52% of all internet traffic is the result of bot activity.
  • About 15% of all Twitter accounts are bots fronted by fictitious
    identities– or more than 50 million worldwide.

Essentially, this is a perfect storm of insecurity- A ravenous and often
undiscriminating population of content consumers; an internet that is
heavily trodden by opportunistic automated code hunting for
vulnerabilities; and the normalization of human/bot  interactions,
simply because of its ubiquity in the social media experience.

Bots and Botnets:

Bots are really nothing more than code-
programs- designed to do automated tasks over the internet.  They
typically are designed to collaborate with other bots, creating

Think of a botnet as a army of bots, hidden and quietly waiting for a
command to act.   Bots and botnets are not
technically difficult to create, and producing malicious botnets has
become a lucrative cash crop in places where a reasonably well educated,
technically savvy population is trapped in a struggling economy.  In
the last several months, large scale bot farms have been exposed in
Estonia and Poland.

For enterprise IT decision makers, it is important to appreciate that
while some of the most publicized bot activities of the last several years
involved state actors ( Russia and
US and European elections, North Korea and the hack of Sony executives,
etc. ), bot activities do not all follow this pattern.  There is, in
fact, a lively trade in botnets for hire.  Criminal bot farms churn
out code for anyone who will pay, often with the intent of steering
opinion and fomenting existing controversies that have an effect on
commerce: Think climate change, drug prices, gun laws and the like. 

The Botnets Hunters:

There is a growing global awareness on the
part of governments and social media platforms that  malignant
botnets  need to be rapidly identified, tied to a source and taken
down.  Paradoxically, efforts to do so have given rise to a  new
kind of threat to enterprise and brand reputations.

To date, most botnets that have been uncovered and disabled were
haphazardly constructed, and thus fairly easy for a determined bot hunter
to identify.  One technique: Bot hunters  examine registration
records for social media accounts.  Hundreds of thousand of bot
accounts have been created for user names that are meaningless strings of
characters, numbers and symbols. Social media platforms now make frequent
scans for this property, and then act appropriately. 

On a slightly more sophisticated level, two other tools for identifying
bot accounts are

activity level



. ( Amplification is a measure
of how often an account shares or retweets.) A very active human user of
social media might post 50 to 70 times per day; a bot might post 2000
times per day; And bot accounts are often used to generate massive
amplification through  24/7 cascades of shares and retweets, in the
attempt to influence trend metrics.  So.  If you are a bot
hunter and you see lack of legitimate identity credentials and way too
much traffic, boom. Dead botnet. However, as we know, technology evolves
but so do threats.

The best way for bot coders to get around leaving the expected
fingerprints is to use the identities of real people– a lot of real
people–and distribute activities across a much, much  larger
population of bots.  For example, while an old-school botnet might
have had 500,000 poorly credentialed bots, a better disguised botnet might
require millions of bots with well harvested stolen identities.  In
this new for-profit scenario, the botnet is more commercially valuable if
identities in the botnet are well matched to whatever  the
botnet-for-hire’s aims of activity and amplification are.
This is not
a prediction.

It is a description of what actually happened during
the FCC comment period on Net Neutrality.  Over half a million
comments in support of repeal were submitted using forged identities,
of whom belonged to people active in fighting to retain net neutrality.

The Perfect Storm:

This demand for well matched forged identity
data just happens to coincide perfectly with the identity theft industry’s
need to innovate, adapt and evolve. After the US moved to chip based
credit cards and extinguished a crucial revenue source, ID theft
operations were holding a huge inventory of US identity data that had no
ready market. . Jumping into the botnet economy was a no-brainer; and
unlike nascent criminal botnet farmers, identity theft operations are
mature and  sophisticated in data handling and aggregation. 
They routinely create customized data products and are highly
responsive to  customers needs.


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Review and Update Social Media Strategies and Policies:

damaging social media attacks can spread far and fast, cost millions to beat
back and permanently tarnish reputations.  Mobile devices are the
battleground. Enterprise needs to get ahead of the new wave of threats by
aggressively educating employees at all levels of the enterprise about
what  bots are, what they do, and how to evaluate those identities with
which they engage on social media.

  • Be proactive through education, policy and monitoring of the brand
    linked social media footprint. 
  • Consider using reputation management services to ensure early
    visibility of emerging problems.
  • Educate social media users within the enterprise on how to recognize
    bots and how to avoid becoming ensnared in a botnet either as host to
    bot through poor device management practices or as a consumer of of bot
    disseminated information.

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About the Author

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Nancy Nicolaisen is an author, researcher, and
consultant specializing in designing solutions based on small, mobile,
connected devices.

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