Planned Overage Yields Lower Costs
In last week’s tip we introduced the concept of using data devices such as tablets with their lower 2 GB plans to bring your overall pool cost down. We build on that topic this week with the theme that there is no reason to pay your carrier for unused and unneeded data, particularly when the penalty of overshooting is not particularly painful. The cost/GB of data plans can range from $8.00/GB (10 GB plan) to $15.00/GB (2 GB plan). In contrast to voice overage rates that can be 5 times the cost/minute of your voice plan, the cost of exceeding your planned data levels is no more painful than the cost of buying the original 2 GB plan at $15.00/GB. Because of the low differential between planned data and unplanned overage rates, you have a situation with data pooling where it doesn’t benefit you to maintain a buffer, it actually costs you more.
While the most effective method of managing a data pool is to make monthly adjustments based on historical trends and recent growth rates, a low maintenance flat pool approach can be quite successful given the modest overage rates for data. Most data usage average values fall well below the common 5 GB plan level for data cards. When incorporating a growing volume of smartphones as well as tablets that offer 2 GB plan options, you may finally be at a point where the amount of data purchased in the pool can actually come close or even fall under your average usage rate. You will need to have a data pool made up predominantly of smartphones and/or tablets with only a small minority of data cards to generate a pool environment where you can actually carry fewer GBs in the pool than you might use in peak months.
The scenario demonstrated above represents around 1000 data capable devices with over 75% of these devices being smartphones and tablets and only 25% traditional data cards. Common wisdom in setting pool buffers is to find a peak usage month and then to build in a small buffer on top of that to avoid incurring overage charges. Many companies don’t have the means to make continual adjustments to their pools so they will utilize a methodology of investing in a flat pool amount that provides some protection against overage in the peak months. The downside of data pooling is that it can show higher levels of variability than a typical voice pool on a month to month basis. The upside to the data pooling rate structure is that you no longer need to approach the exercise of setting your pool levels based on an overage avoidance strategy. In fact, if you carry too much safety buffer, you are going to be paying the carrier even more in down usage months and you never get money back for unused data.
This example contrasts a traditional buffer strategy set at 2900 GB/month by applying a 4% safety buffer over the highest usage peak versus taking that same 4% buffer over the average usage for this period. By definition with fluctuating usage, the average pool level line is going to incur periodic overage rates for peak months but since the cost of those overage months is slight, you will still come out ahead because you make a significant reduction in the amount of data paid for but unused. The scenario above for 1000 data devices generates a 4% annual savings or $13,400 despite 3 months of overage.
Benefitting from 2 GB Tablet Share Plans
Companies are finding an increasing need for wireless-enabled tablets to empower their mobile employees. Unlike Data Cards that have a 5 GB plan option floor, Tablets typically provide plan options as low as 2 GBs. An increasing ratio of Tablets to Data Cards can generate beneficial savings considerations by utilizing the appropriate quantity of 2 GB Shared plan options with a pool of Data Cards. The lower cost point of the 2 GB Tablet plan will result in an overall reduction in your monthly data charges.
If you are not currently using data pooling please see our Tip published April 9th. If you are taking advantage of data pooling for Data Cards, the vast majority of you are noticing that your average usage rate leaves a sizeable gap of unused GBs that you are nonetheless paying for each month. This is due to the lack of plans beneath the 5 GB floor for Data Cards. Average data usage can vary dramatically by company but our experience has shown that Tablets will typically run at lower data usage rates than Data Cards. While the average Tablet usage may be as much as 1.0 GB lower than Data Cards, the Tablets offer a plan option that is 3 GB lower and $20 less than Data Cards. Herein lays the opportunity to reduce your monthly data pool buffers resulting in bottom-line monthly savings.
The graph above represents the average usage and buffers for a Data Card only pool and then an expanded pool including Tablets. By increasing the ratio of 2 GB Tablet plans to 5 GB Data plans the pool average drops 1 GB. Some companies might have reached the point of supporting a higher count of Tablets than Data Cards. The higher the ratio of Tablets in a pool, the more flexibility one has in sizing pool buffers. The 2 GB Data Share plan introduces the opportunity to close the data buffer gap significantly.
This example of 800 data devices in the graph above represents a higher than normal average usage. Your actual average usage may be lower. The Data Card only pool shown in red produced an average of 1.0 GB of unused but paid for data. In green is the new blended pool made up of 67% Data Cards and 33% Tablets which reduces the buffer from 1.0 down to 0.5 GBs. By using a blend of 2 GB and 5 GB plans, the amount of paid-for but unused data is reduced significantly. A reduction in the total amount of data purchased and available to the pool in the blended example is where savings are derived.
Your actual savings will depend upon the plan prices previously used for the Tablets before combining them in the blended pool. Non-Pooled Tablets are typically a mix of 3 GB and 5 GB plans ranging from $40 to $50 list. The 2 GB Share plans are priced at $30 list. Our experience is that most pools will have an adequate buffer even with all Tablets on 2 GB Share plans. The example illustrated above generates over $3500/month in savings in the blended pool example.
Finding Savings by Pooling Your Corporate Data Cards
Two driving factors are surfacing more practical answers for data pooling. First, carriers are motivated to replace the older generation of unlimited data plans with new bounded data plan options and second, competitive pressures in the consumer/family arena are driving new data sharing choices that are undermining traditional corporate data plans. The carriers have responded with their first wave of corporate data sharing plans. Though savings are not dramatic with these current offerings they are, for most corporate environments, a step in the right direction.
With the exception of Sprint who chooses to differentiate itself on the basis of unlimited data plans, the carriers are aggressively moving to create stepwise capacity-limited tiers or in yet other cases they are beginning to throttle throughput speeds once plan limits are reached. Previously data pooling represented a sizeable risk due to high overage rates and the ready access to unlimited data plans. Now that overage rates are less painful it is a rare case where companies won’t derive at least some savings benefits from data pooling.
With a limited number of data tier options for data cards (5GB and 10GB) it can be challenging to accomplish granular buffer tuning. The graph above differentiates three general bands representing slightly different approaches to pooling based on the average GB usage per data card. Because the carriers sell the shared version of data plans at the same price as the non-shared ones there are some ‘no-brainer’ instances for data pooling. If you are averaging less than 4.5 GBs across all your corporate data cards and you have a reasonably large population (> 100) then it makes no sense not to pool. Putting everyone on a shared 5GB plan will be the same cost as leaving everyone on the 5GB individual plan but with added protection against overage charges. Savings will come from users that would need 10GB plans to avoid overage or those that would otherwise incur overage charges on 5GB or 10GB individual plans.
For companies in the band that average between 4.5GBs and 9.5GBs per data device, data pooling is also advised but may require some monthly monitoring and maintenance to insure ongoing savings. Once your data usage grows beyond the bounds of 5GB plans, your savings can now fluctuate based on your capacity to maintain cost effective buffers through a mix of 5GB and 10GB plans. Look for our tip next week to learn more on the topic of setting correct data pool buffers.
In our experience it is rare that a pool of data cards would average > 9.5GBs but in this instance it is important to recognize the fact that carriers charge less for overage on individual plans ($10/GB) than they do for pooled plans ($15/GB). What that means is if your usage is such that you are going to frequently incur overage charges even if every device is maxed out on a 10GB plan, then you may want to consider a mix of plans where the highest users are removed from the pool to benefit from lower overage charges of individual plans.