How to Maximize Productivity and Minimize Mobile Data Bill Shock While Traveling Internationally


By Ravi Rishy-Maharaj, GigSky CEO

If your company is like most, 80 percent of your employees shut off mobile data when they’re traveling abroad. The

reason is to avoid the “bill shock” of the usurious international roaming charges that come with traditional mobile service. But what’s really shocking is that small and medium businesses (SMBs) are willing to undermine their productivity and responsiveness when they don’t have to.

By asking three simple questions, SMBs can minimize bill shock and maximize productivity:

1) Are my employees’ devices unlocked?

This question applies regardless of whether you provide your employees with smartphones and/or tablets or whether your company has a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. Either way, if those devices were purchased from a mobile operator’s store or from an operator’s authorized reseller, such as Best Buy or Staples, they’re almost certainly locked to that operator. That means they can get mobile data service only from that operator and its roaming partners – a design that virtually guarantees bill shock.

Wi-Fi provides a way around that limitation because the lock applies only to cellular connections. There’s an ample selection of handheld Wi-Fi routers – often marketed as “personal hotspots” – that use 3G and 4G cellular for backhaul. Your employee’s locked smartphone or tablet uses Wi-Fi to connect to the router, which then uses cellular to pass that data back and forth.

Like smartphones and tablets, these handheld routers are available in locked and unlocked versions. Be sure to purchase an unlocked version, which enables the router to use a universal SIM.

Short for Subscriber Identity Module, the SIM is a fingernail-sized microchip found in all smartphones and tablets that use the GSM family of cellular technologies, which includes HSPA and LTE. A universal SIM is a type that enables the device to connect to more networks rather than just a single operator and its international roaming partners.

Universal SIMs are available from companies, such as GigSky, that resell mobile operators’ broadband services at lower prices than SMBs can get if they buy direct. Universal SIMs also eliminate the hassle and expense of buying and swapping SIMs every time an employee arrives in a new country. Instead, the universal SIM automatically chooses the right operator in each country, so the employee can focus on work instead of figuring out which SIM and network to use.

Could you simply provide your employees with new, unlocked smartphones and tablets? Sure, but an unlocked Wi-Fi router typically is a fraction of the cost of an enterprise-grade smartphone or tablet. And if your employees’ smartphones and tablets are already unlocked, then they can accept a universal SIM, eliminating the need to use a Wi-Fi router.

Why not just skip the router and have the locked smartphone or tablet connect to a public Wi-Fi hostpot, such as in a café, hotel room or airport? There are at least three major drawbacks:

  • Wi-Fi coverage is unavailable in many places, which means your employees often won’t be able to communicate with colleagues and customers. That can cost you sales and productivity.
  • Public Wi-Fi often isn’t free. Companies often underestimate how much they really spend on public Wi-Fi service because employees put that on the travel and entertainment section of their expense report, so it’s lumped in with other travel expenses.
  • Public Wi-Fi is a back door for hackers. One common attack is to put an access point in a public place and give it an SSID that sounds innocuous, such as “Starbucks Wi-Fi.” The access point provides Internet access, but it also harvests passwords and other confidential information in the process.

A personal hotspot with a universal SIM avoids all three drawbacks. So does an unlocked smartphone or tablet that uses a universal SIM.

2) How much data will employees use on their trip?

This is an important question because it enables you or them to buy the right amount of prepaid data for use with the universal SIM. As a result, employees aren’t left incommunicado by a plan that runs out of megabytes or gigabytes before their trip ends, and you’re not wasting money by buying more than they’ll use.

One way to calculate the right amount is to look at your mobile bills over the past few months. Another option is to use the tool built into the smartphone or tablet, or an app, that tracks usage. Those tools and apps often break out usage by application, which in the case of BYOD is useful for distinguishing between work-related data and personal data such as Facebook.

Keep in mind that doing business on the road is typically more data-intensive compared to being in the office. For example, when calculating how much data they’ll need, employees should consider how often they’ll be checking email from a cab or in a client’s office.

Being out of the office also can mean employees will need to use their smartphone or tablet for videoconferences because they can’t attend meetings in person. If that’s likely, then do a quick videoconference in the office beforehand so the aforementioned usage-tracking tool or app can show how many megabytes are consumed per minute.

Of course, business often takes unexpected turns, such as an opportunity that pops up while someone is on the road and has to be addressed immediately. That’s why it’s important to look for universal SIM solutions that make it easy – such as through an app or Web portal – for employees to buy additional megabytes or gigabytes from the road.

3) How much will that usage cost?

Not all universal SIM solutions are created alike, including when it comes to the type of network your employees can use. Focus on solutions that feature at least 3G and ideally 4G networks because only those technologies can provide the broadband speeds necessary to maximize productivity and support bandwidth-intensive applications such as videoconferencing and file sharing.

Next, look for solutions with low rates in the countries where your employees travel. That can be as low as $.04/MB in some countries and $.10/MB in many others. A typical mobile operator’s add-on international mobile data plan costs about $60 for 300 MB, while a plan that uses a universal SIM – with or without a personal Wi-Fi router – costs about $35 for 300 MB.

Another way to appreciate that savings is to go back through your employees roaming charges over the past six months or year, add them up and then subtract about 80 percent. That total is how much you could have saved if you’d switched to universal SIM solution earlier. Why wait any longer?