September 21, 2010
(Please note that I'm speaking as a dumb American in the following entry. If I'm incorrect, please comment and let me know)
My users are pretty funny sometimes. The questions that they ask are done innocently enough, and most of the time, they're completely ignorant of the ramifications of us providing a solution (example? "Can we allow our clients to link to a report that they need to be logged in to see?"). This is probably one of those.
We're always trying to increase our client base, and there are tons of financial entities in Europe who we'd love to provide services for, which means our sales and executive staff crosses the pond on a relatively routine basis. While they're there, using their company-provided mobile phones is expensive...and when I say expensive, I mean it costs about a buck a minute to reach the US...and that's AFTER the international plan...and if you think that's overly expensive, don't get me started on cellular data!
The problem is thus, how do we get our executives internet and mobile access when they're in Europe at the lowest price?
In the US, cellular service is provided by a lot of different providers, but most of the providers are somewhat ubiquitous. For example, AT&T's coverage is almost everywhere, even if the speeds aren't always so great. Phone calls will generally work, with varying quality.
In Europe, coverage is much more fragmented. Each country has its own set of mobile carriers, and many of the protocols aren't compatible, and when they are, the prices are outrageous. It was apparently so bad that the European Union had to step in and regulate roaming charges.
There are lots of services that claim to help the problem for Americans, but they smell like traps to me. Most of them involve multi-modem cellphones billed by resellers. Even the National Geographic Society has its name on one.
Fortunately there are some independent sites offering advice, most of which seems to be use the phone as little as possible. The world phones that people talk about do work in almost every country, but the phones are generic cell phones without access to corporate email, and my users find that unacceptable.
What we've done in the past is use the AT&T World Traveler plan, but even then, a call in the UK is $1/min and data comes in at a hefty $.0195/KB, which by my admittedly fuzzy math means you're paying almost $20 for a MB. Lube is extra.
The solution that seems to have the lowest price, even if it's a pain to manage, is to attack the problem on two fronts. We're leaning toward pay as you go plans for mobile telephones to do voice, and using pay as you go data plans that will work with a mobile hotspot to provide internet. By using a mobile hotspot like the Mifi 2352, we can provide internet to an iPhone and a laptop (actually, up to 5 devices).
The two-pronged attack gives a local phone for in-country and emergency calls, and the data solution allows VoIP connectivity to the states to become a reality. It does involve two separate devices (three if you count the user's iPhone), but also offers significant advantages to purchasing an expensive recurring data plan for a country that we're not constantly visiting.
I know that some of you have to have the same kinds of problems as this. How did you solve it? I'd really like to know how other people do this cost-effectively, because it seems ridiculously expensive for no good reason. Any advice? Please comment below!