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Ask Steve: Which Cell Companies Are Best for SMBs?

About one-third of the questions I get these days are about mobility and wireless — rate plans, mobile applications, the next hot device, sales channels and carrier plans. Here’s a good one to help us lay out the U.S. SMB market for mobile solutions.

Q:Which cellular companies are best for SMBs?

—Dmitri from Amherst, Mass.

A: Good question, Dmitri. Let’s start with a little review of the U.S. carrier SMB market share for voice and data services (see charts).

Verizon Wireless (including Alltel) leads the market with SMB mobile voice and data market share of 30 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Reliance on its “it’s the network of choice” messaging across fixed and mobile solutions has given Verizon a rather staid but reliable image. This image certainly resonates in certain segments of the SMB market, especially those where quality of service is top of mind.

AT&T Inc. (including Centennial) is in close second place with SMB mobile voice and data carrier today with 26 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Iconic devices like the iPhone have helped it attract SMB employees with fashionista or prosumer data tendencies, although smartphone adoption at SMBs has lagged that of larger enterprises.

Sprint Nextel Corp. through Nextel was long the darling of SMBs, although that leadership has long since vanished. With 18 percent mobile voice and 15 percent mobile data market share, Sprint is off its game. However, it has an ace in the hole with its network of channels that once weighed strongly with SMB decision makers.

T-Mobile USA Inc., with 11 percent SMB share of mobile voice and 10 percent share for data, has an opportunity to capitalize on its price leadership in the market. SMBs are notoriously price conscious, but once committed to a solution they are loyal. Yankee Group has found the best SMB deals on corporate-liable voice services through T-Mobile, and certainly T-Mobile’s hot spot-enabled Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) solution is appealing to SMBs.

U.S. Cellular has 6 percent SMB mobile voice and 5 percent share for data market share. U.S. Cellular builds upon its local community presence to solidify relationships with SMBs. Many of U.S. Cellular’s markets are second and third tier; however, Yankee Group found ex-urban and rural SMBs’ needs often are more mobility-centric than their urban counterparts.

Dimitri, answering your question is a little difficult because wireless services and carriers vary by geographic market. Here is my advice.

  1. Pick a carrier that has sales and support channels to match your needs. Some carriers might be willing to sell to your business with a sales agent, others will want you to deal with a retail store or an agent. Check around and pick the model that’s right for you.
  2. Pick a provider based on the total solution you want, not based on your impressions of network quality. The “which-carrier-has-the-best-network” battle is over. The war now being fought is at the solution level. Consider the mobile-enabled applications you need, the device operating system(s) you want to support and your existing on-premises technology. Remember, your mobility solution need not be another IT silo.
  3. Lower your international roaming (if you have any) by picking a carrier that offers UMA. International roaming is one of the last remaining gotchas that can surprise you at month’s end. T-Mobile is one of the few carriers that allows UMA-enabled devices to access Wi-Fi (802.11) networks and make Internet-based phone calls. So when your employees are roaming internationally, they can call domestic U.S. numbers without incurring excessive international roaming charges.
  4. If you have trusted technology advisers, ask them their opinion. They may have had experiences with various providers’ solutions and found differences. These differences in integration capabilities might impact your implementation. Ask your technology advisers or channel partners if they can provide you guidance on appropriate devices and operating systems to use or stay away from.

After you pick a corporate mobility provider for your business, send us an e-mail, Dmitri, and let us know how you made your selection.

Send your questions to asksteve@yankeegroup.com. Please include your name, city, state and a phone number where you can be reached. First names and locations only will be published.

Steve Hilton is the vice president of Yankee Group’s Enterprise Research Group with an expertise in converged solutions for SMBs. Hilton manages a team of analysts delivering consulting, research and programs to help vendors and service providers better serve SMBs, midmarket enterprises and large enterprises globally. Visit Yankee Group online at www.yankeegroup.com.


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