Prepaid wireless & cloning

Prepaid wireless
The four rate plans described (emergency, individual, group, and corporate) all require customers to pay for access one month in advance. The calls are charged at the end of each billing month, so each phone bill contains charges for the previous month’s usage and the next month’s access. Prepaid wireless users never pay a fee for access. To begin service, a new prepaid wireless customer simply buys the phone and pays for a block of airtime, such as 500 minutes. Some carriers charge an activation fee, but most do not; they make up for this lost revenue by requiring users to buy the phone directly from them. Some advantages of prepaid wireless are that the carrier requires no term contract and does not perform a credit check on a new customer. In Asia, prepaid wireless service is the only offering.

When additional minutes are needed, the user must buy a card and input the data into the phone. Most prepaid wireless systems have time limits. For example, at the end of six months, the phone is deactivated unless the user buys additional airtime. Once the additional airtime is purchased, any minutes that remained on the old card will again be available to the user. The Tracfone prepaid cellular program in the United States requires users to buy new cards every 2 months. If the customer fails to buy a new card, the phone is deactivated and the phone number may be reassigned.

Save money with prepaid wireless
Prepaid wireless is best for people who only sporadically use the phone. If a user regularly has months with almost no calling, he should consider prepaid wireless to avoid paying an access fee in a month when he will not be using the phone.

Association discounts
Like other telecom services, such as long distance, some wireless carriers offer association discounts. Being a member of a specific organization such as a chamber of commerce, civic organization, or trade organization may qualify your business for an association discount. Regional wireless carriers are more likely to offer association discounts than nationwide carriers. A cellular company operating near the automobile factories in Detroit gives a 5% discount off the total cellular bill to businesses that belong to a certain manufacturing trade organization. To find out about association discounts, ask customer service or one of the carrier’s outside sales representatives.

Save money on features
The original cellular phones were cumbersome and came with no bells or whistles. Today, a host of advanced features are available. The most common features include the following:

Call forwarding;

Call waiting;

Caller ID;

Basic 911;

Voice mail;

Phone insurance.

Sometimes, these features are given to the customer at no charge, but other times carriers charge for the features. Telecom companies are notorious for nickel-and-dime charges that can double a monthly telephone bill. Sales representatives are given bonuses based on the number of advanced features they can sell.

The features are provided by the carrier’s network technology. Once the features are available in the system, they cost the carrier almost nothing. Consequently, every dollar spent on features is sheer profit for carriers. Ask the carrier to waive the charges for all features. If the company says its billing system will not allow it, ask for a one-time credit equal to the cost of the features for a year. If the carrier will not waive the charges, consider canceling any unnecessary features.

One of the most unnecessary features is mobile phone insurance. This covers repair or replacement of your phone if it is broken, lost, or stolen. This feature costs $3 to $5 per month. With the exception of construction workers, most mobile phone users are not too hard on their phones. Today’s phones are hardier than the original phones, and the new smaller sizes make them less susceptible to damage.


Cloning is making fraudulent calls on someone else’s wireless phone account. The thieves use radio scanners at major roads to intercept a cell phone’s electronic serial number (ESN) and mobile identification number (MIN). Sometimes, industry insiders sell ESNs and MINs to the thieves. This information is then reprogrammed into another cell phone. The thieves then make calls that are billed on the other person’s account. They usually use the clone phone for up to a month. Once the billing cycle ends, the carrier, or the customer, notices the dramatic increase in calling volume and disconnects the phone.

Customers are not liable for fraudulent charges; carriers must write these charges off. Cloning and other cellular fraud costs carriers half a billion dollars each year. If your phone has been cloned, notify your carrier at once. You should dispute the charges, and the carrier will remove the charges from your account. To remedy the problem, you will probably be issued a new telephone number.

Corporate rate plans

Corporate rate plans
Most accounts only have one cell phone listed on the account. Customers typically activate only one phone at a time, and the phone is handled individually. Because of this, wireless carriers are not exactly sure what percentage of their customer base is commercial and what percentage is consumer. If, however, a business has multiple phones with the same carrier, it may qualify to be treated as a corporate account. Each carrier has a minimum number of phones to qualify for a corporate account. It may be as few as 5 or as many as 50.

If a business does not meet the minimum number of required phones, the carrier may make an exception and allow it to start a corporate account anyway. If a business is only one or two phones short of the minimum, it might cut its overall expenses by adding extra phones to qualify for the corporate account.

What is the advantage of a corporate account?
The main advantage of corporate accounts is that the monthly access charge is significantly reduced. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars a month in access charges, corporate accounts typically only charge $15 per phone. The corporate account for AT&T employees has a phenomenally low $10 monthly access fee and airtime only costs $0.10 per minute.

With individual rate plans, it is a gamble each month whether or not the user will use too many, or too few, minutes. In either case, money is wasted. Corporate accounts do not experience this waste. With a corporate account, high users pay a low rate for each minute, and low users only pay the minimal access fee. There are no surprises.

Pooled or not pooled?

Like small group accounts, some corporate accounts use a pool system for the airtime. A typical pooled corporate account may charge $100 for the first phone and $15 for each additional phone. A pool of 1,000 airtime minutes for all the phones to share is included in the plan. The customer must pay for any additional minutes above the first 1,000.

Nonpooled corporate accounts charge the customer a low access fee per phone and bill the customer for each minute of airtime. You probably will not be given a choice between pooled or not pooled, as most carriers only offer one or the other.

Using someone else’s corporate account
Some carriers allow two businesses to combine their mobile phones to qualify for a corporate account. As long as the carrier separately bills the two companies, this is a great situation. I have seen large companies combine with their subsidiaries, customers, suppliers, and even employees to qualify for a larger corporate account. A large business can use its leverage to help a smaller sister company qualify for corporate pricing.

Avoid fraud and waste on corporate accounts
Some businesses allow their employees to put their personal phones on the corporate pricing. As long as the company does not pay for personal phones or a sister company’s phones, this system works great. Larger businesses that do not routinely track their cellular phones and regularly audit their bills may end up paying for an employee’s personal phone. It is not uncommon for an ex-employee to continue using the company-issued cell phone for months after employment has been terminated.

If you are auditing your bills for the first time, find out the name of the user for each cell phone listed on the bill. Some carriers print the user’s name right on the bill. After reviewing your list of phone numbers and employee names, company department managers should be able to tell you which employees should be using company wireless phones. If you still cannot determine who the user is, call the number and see who answers. If all else fails, temporarily disconnecting the service should flush out the user. Be careful, because you may be surprised to learn whose phone you have canceled. I have canceled the phones of ex-employees, ghost employees, high-level executives, the college-aged children of executives, and even a high-level executive’s mistress.

Before disconnecting anyone’s phone, be sure your company’s executive staff are well aware of the pending cancellation. On an account with 25 or more phones, this type of common-sense audit typically turns up one or two illegitimate cell phones.

Remove high-end users from the corporate account

Customers that use corporate accounts will have one or more phones that stand out because they use more airtime than the other phones. A typical corporate account has 20 phones that each use about 100 minutes of airtime each month and one or two phones that use more than 500 minutes of airtime. In this scenario, the larger users could be pulled out of the corporate account and handled as individual accounts.