When in Roam: The Biggest Challenges of International Calling

Going on holiday without smartphones or tablets is almost unthinkable now. But sometimes all it takes is a streamed video or an innocuous phone call home to slap extortionate roaming charges onto your phone bill. Which can certainly puncture your holiday calm when you return back to work.

It’s the same for big businesses. We work in an increasingly global economy, but even in the digital age the need to send people overseas for business has not abated. According to research by CCMI, 48% of large businesses have seen an increase in their mobile voice usage, with two-thirds seeing an increase in text and data usage.

With that comes the risk an organisation might have to foot extortionate bills for voice minutes and mobile data usage from employees on business trips. For 40% of large businesses, international roaming costs are reported at $1,000 or more per month per employee. And for 13% of large businesses that monthly cost was over $3,500 per employee.

Many businesses will be tempted to stay with their existing telecoms provider for convenience, but may not realise that they are missing out on improved cost­efficiency and productivity gains by switching to a new provider.

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But there’s more at stake than just high wireless or roaming charges. Businesses have to balance controlling the cost of employee mobile usage with the potential loss in productivity of an employee without usual phone access. If an employee is unable to stay in contact with colleagues and customers while abroad and cannot effectively access cloud-based professional tools that too will have a cost to the business.

The ideal scenario would be for an employee to able to use their normal mobile device internationally as they normally would and pay domestic rates for calls or data. And while service providers are recognising the value of providing flexible pricing models for enterprise roaming services, true parity is unlikely to happen for a while.

In the meantime, you will likely have either a local or a global policy governing mobile use by employees when abroad. Over half (55%) of large businesses have policies that specifically limit the amount of roaming data usage. It is integral that more businesses implement these policies to avoid rogue employees abusing the system.

Of course, having a policy in place won’t entirely eradicate the issue. In which case, there are certain best practices and behavioural changes that employees can be encouraged to adopt to stop businesses getting caught out.

Businesses can insist employees use pre-paid/local SIM cards or even a different mobile device entirely when abroad to manage international roaming costs. The usual risk associated with this strategy is that the employee might not maintain their usual levels of communication. But so long as a call/messaging forwarding system is implemented far enough in advance of a business trip, there is little reason why an employee should not be as ‘in the loop’ as usual.

Another thing to encourage would be the use of Wi-Fi hotspots wherever possible, so that any wireless usage isn’t coming from roaming charges. With the ubiquity of Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels, cafes, restaurants and offices, employees should be able to find enough spaces that allow them to keep connected with the rest of the business. It is worth noting, however, that accessing wireless hotspots in other countries poses a possible security risk (phone fraud – including registration hacking, where a hacker masquerades as you on the company network – is estimated to be a $20 billion problem worldwide). Businesses have a role to play ensuring employees are educated about the correct security procedures needed to securely access wireless networks abroad.

There is certainly a barrier that must be overcome with employees to instill best practice when using mobile devices abroad. Encouraging common-sense behaviours in employees, and enshrining those behaviours in company mobile policy, should be enough to prevent most abuses of the system. To that end, mobile service providers are increasingly providing services such as cost analysis tools, device management and more to make implementing that policy quicker and easier.

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14 September 2015 | Cem Ahmet

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The views in this article are the personal views of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Gamma.