The B2B push is on at T-Mobile USA. The carrier recently announced two new initiatives, the Office Connect suite and a device financing program, geared toward providing enterprise customers with unified communications and equipment purchasing flexibility solutions. It’s even instituted a credit as high as $200 for companies that switch their voice, mobile broadband or both services over to T-Mobile. It all ties in with other efforts the provider has put forth in the last year to advance its stake in B2B.
So how does T-Mobile’s new “un-carrier” attitude frame its approach to B2B? Wireless Week recently spoke with Frank Sickinger, Senior Vice President of B2B for T-Mobile USA, about how the company’s plans to go head-to-head with the market share leaders.
Wireless Week: Can you talk more about the advantages of Office Connect?
Frank Sickinger: This is a product that we’re very excited about that we’ve just launched. Office Connect really brings a lot of unified communication functionality and benefits directly to our customers. It’s been built into our core network as well, which I think is an important point. A lot of times you get clients on devices or things that are half way there. This was co-developed with Ericsson and then deployed into our network. It’s really about boosting productivity with advanced PBX capabilities on mobile devices. So the same rich feature set folks would anticipate having on a desktop phone in a Fortune 500 company can now be appreciated by a much smaller company. That allows them to really improve both accessibility of employees and responsiveness. It also allows them to control cost and minimize investment or management costs because we’re offering it as a service where we’ve already deployed it in our core network. I think we’ve it in a way that’s really high value and by that I mean it’s $9.95 a month per line as a managed service.
WW: Does T-Mobile’s Office Connect service integrate with a more traditional PBX service?
Sickinger: It can, yeah. So there are a multitude of different PBX systems that can be readily integrated with it. It can also be for if a customer does not have their own PBX service, they can still run the functionality via our network and very easy-to-deploy services. If you look at the major platforms out there today that are established PBXs behind company firewalls, those can be used in conjunction with the product or it can be stood up independently.
I think of it as a fixed mobile conversion solution because it really can bring all the best UC functionality out to the handheld; some of the simple things like abbreviated dialing, call transferring and conference calling and also some of the more sophisticated functionality.
WW: Will this service make desktop phone functionality more accessible? I know I look at my desk phone and I barely want anything to do with it.
Sickinger: [Laughs.] That’s funny because I’m talking to you on my desk phone now, so for calls like this I use the desk phone because I’m here. But there are actually hours and days that go by where the desk phone gets no usage and everything is forwarded on. There are lots of days that I never touch the desk phone and we know that that’s the case with our customer base. It’s interesting to see, between campus nomads and a much more mobile workforce, the time is right for us to bring Office Connect out into the marketplace.
WW: BlackBerry is attempting with its new devices and BB10 to separate personal and business information on the same device. Does T-Mobile see any opportunity for the carrier to develop solutions that help consumers manage both aspects of their lives, or is that better left up to the OEMs?
Sickinger: It’s a really interesting topic. Yes, we see BlackBerry with the Balance feature set coming out and, I wouldn’t classify it as dual-persona but I would say it’s really able to partition between personal use and business use in some really important ways. Personal applications on the device are not able to access any corporate information and then in turn, some really nice capabilities that a company can put in play to not have an end-user copying and pasting from business data and putting it on the personal side. We like that quite a bit as something that comes built-in and comes off the shelf or out of the box.
We also help our customers a lot with Mobile Device Management (MDM). We have a standing relationship with Good. We also just have launched this week MobileIron as an MDM solution. We also have multiple other relationships we have in place and with MobileIron and with Good we build it right into the rate plan.
We do see there being potential in dual-persona. I would tell you that we’re looking at all kinds of solutions. An example would be Vmware or Enterproid. There are various solutions out there. We are looking at what those can be. We do believe of the functionality requirements are served through services that the OEMs bring, like Balance. But at this point I believe the MDM solutions that we bring to market really allow customers to protect the security, to deliver the data they want. I think the MDM plays a more and more important role and we’ll see how things go with dual-persona as we progress. We are looking at several solutions. We have not brought anything to market to date.
WW: Can you talk more about MobileIron?
Sickinger: MobileIron is one of the preeminent mobile device solutions on the market. What’s interesting about it for us is they’ve built a very dedicated and loyal customer base. The key elements of it are, one, it’s a multi-OS environment. Second, there’s layered security. By that I mean that different end-users, based on their roles and responsibilities within an organization, can have access to different corporate data and applications. Third, it’s a native experience. Users want to not have to have a mobile device management experience that really fundamentally changes how they would utilize their device.
Another aspect of it is it’s one of the very best in terms of managing content and applications. So you think of an enterprise application store, MobileIron makes it very easy for enterprise, mid-market and even small business customers to have the catalog of applications and solutions that they’ve certified appropriate for their employees and have them out there in an environment that’s very easy for end-users to go in and download or for updates to be populated out.
The other thing is that we really wanted to make it easy for our customers to deploy and that’s to say, enterprise customers that want to deploy a server behind their firewall and hook everything in, they’re more than welcome to do that. And that happens a lot in our customer base.
But also it’s available as a hosted service. So customers that don’t want to have to manage any software, don’t want to worry about any hardware in their environment or all the fine tuning that can come along with, they can just ring up a cloud-based solution through T-Mobile.
WW: Can you explain how the Mobile Device Payment Solution (MDPS) works?
Sickinger: On MDPS, what we’ve done that is something I think is really, really unique in the marketplace. If you look at small businesses and mid-market, there’s so much happening and so many tools coming out into the marketplace. You think of tablets and network-connected laptops and certainly smartphones, what we found is there are customers that want a financing option. They’d like to see assertive rate plans that are of high value to them and they want to have clarity between what the rate plan is and what the device subsidy is. And this is a lot about the great things that are happening on the consumer side within T-Mobile. But what we’ve done is put together a program that provides third-party financing to business customers. We’ve created rate plans that are of really high value for customers and one of the reasons we’re able to do that is because we’re not subsidizing equipment. So customers can purchase anything that’s certified on our network and their able to finance that equipment at very competitive rates. There are some no interest promotions.
And more importantly, no one wants me doing their taxes for them, but there are some really good tax benefits. When you’re purchasing through a finance program of this sort there are specific tax benefits that especially mid-market accounts and small businesses can appreciate that they wouldn’t as part of a traditional model where they were buying a rate plan that was more expensive and then part of that rate plan cost was being used to subsidize equipment. You think of corporate customers that will be able to reserve capital and finance their upfront device costs through our partner. We think there’ll be more and more of this happening as we move forward.
WW: How does T-Mobile view growing its B2B services within the context of its reinvention as the “un-carrier”?
Sickinger: I would tell you that B2B is a very important part of T-Mobile as we go forward. John Legere, our CEO, his immediate prior history was with Global Crossing, a B2B-focused company. He completely understands B2B and I can tell you that one of his key strategies is called multi-segment. Multi-segment means that we make the right investments and get the right return from B2B and also from MVNO and other areas that bring great opportunities for T-Mobile. So if you look at what [Legere’s] really been supportive here at T-Mobile since his coming here as our CEO, we’re making the right investments in infrastructure. These are things like billing capabilities, e-commerce capabilities for our business customers and, again, the ability to create rate plans that are highly unique and tailored to meet the needs of business customers. And we’re actually increasing our sales force, so our head count is growing out there in the marketplace with folks that are highly trained to go out and service our customers and bring more prospects in the T-Mobile family.
It’s really a great time. I think it will be the best year in T-Mobile’s history. If you look at what we’re doing in terms of being the “un-carrier” in terms of business sales, we’re saying “Let’s be a lot more transparent for our customers. Let’s deliver predictable billing outcome and flexibility that no other carriers do.” That’s the same whether it’s consumer or B2B. So my focus is the same. If you think of transparency, flexibility or predictable billing outcomes; we will lead there. Unlimited 4G data plans, things that we’re doing with unlimited voice, things that we’re doing with applications that we bring to market that really allow our customers to take control of their own wireless destiny; it’s a very great time. If you look on the network side, with all the spectrum that we took from AT&T, what the MetroPCS merger means; we’ll have more than 100 million POPs covered with LTE in the first half of this year and we’ll have more than 200 million by the end of this year. The time is now for us to go out there and grow the segment and I’m very pleased that T-Mobile is making the right moves. We’re just not satisfied to be number four in the marketplace. It’s really all about us going out there and earning customers’ business and growing share. I feel really fortunate that I’ve been given the tools to do just that.