From the November 2010 issue of Entrepreneur

Making the right decisions about mobile service is a critical part of doing business, but deciphering the plans, available devices and tech jargon is enough to stop business owners in their tracks. We break down what's available from each of the major wireless carriers to help you figure out the best ways to mobilize your business.

AT&T

Known best for its lock on the iPhone and iPad devices, AT&T has one of the best device portfolios on the market and is a strong choice for international business travelers. Its voice network, however, was ranked lowest by a smidgen in recent small-business satisfaction studies. AT&T's data network is perceived as weakest among small businesses, but the carrier's recent infrastructure investments helped it pull top performance marks in a study done by PCWorld this year. Plus, with the biggest Wi-Fi partner base of any carrier, AT&T ameliorates any remaining data weaknesses with free Wi-Fi coverage for subscribers.

  5 users 25 users 50 users
Unlimited voice, text $369.96    
3,000 shared minutes, unlimited text $290    
Capped 2GB data plan add-on for all users (smartphones) $200    
20,000 shared minutes, unlimited text   $1,483.76  
30,000 shared minutes, unlimited text     $2,408.51
Capped 2GB data plan add-on for all lines (smartphones)   $1,000 $2,000


Strengths: Best phone selection, strong international services
Weaknesses: Heavy dropped call ratings, expensive data charges
Standout devices: iPhone, BlackBerry Torch, Sony Ericsson Xperia X10

Fee for early contract termination: $325

Customer service rating (on 1,000- point scale)*: 757

SMB Voice share**: 29%

SMB voice satisfaction (scale of 1 to 10)**: 6.83

SMB data satisfaction (scale of 1 to 10)**: 6.33

Push-to-talk service available?: Yes

Network technology platform: GSM

Pricing for mobile broadband: $70 per month for 5GB

"What I see as a differentiator is our applications consultants, who really push to understand with our account team how the customer's business runs and how they can help the customer run their business more efficiently through applications. We have been emphasizing a number of applications that are industry sector specific by vertical." -- Cathy Martine, executive vice president of small-business sales for AT&T
 



Sprint
Sprint has been pouring the 4G mobile broadband investments on thick and has been at the 4G game the longest among the major providers. It's looking to snag small-business share based on that data play, along with the push-to-talk empire gained through the Nextel merger some years back and a major push to better serve small business through increased support staff. In the last year it added a small-business division and implemented maintenance teams for accounts with five lines or more and brought on SMB sales teams targeting companies with as many as 99 employees.

  5 users 25 users 50 users
Unlimited voice and data (text, web, navigation) $449.95    
3,000 shared minutes, unlimited data $229.96    
10,000 shared minutes, unlimited data   $1,689.75  
25,000 shared minutes, unlimited data   $2,149.75  
50,000 shared minutes, unlimited data     $4,319.50


Strengths: Widest spread and most mature

Weaknesses: Though improving, customer service ratings still lag HTC Evo, Motorola i1

Standout devices: 4G data network, strong SMB service support

Fee for early contract termination: $200

Customer service rating (on 1,000- point scale)*: 734

SMB Voice share**: 15%

SMB voice satisfaction (scale of 1 to 10)**: 7.18

SMB data satisfaction (scale of 1 to 10)**: 7.2

Push-to-talk service available?: Yes

Network technology platform: CDMA

Pricing for mobile broadband: $59.99 per month for 5GB
 



T-Mobile
The scrappy underdog of the group, T-Mobile has kept itself competitive through robust customer service and competitive pricing. This provider is particularly appealing to international travelers, as its GSM infrastructure offers much more flexibility to those who regularly find themselves out of the U.S. coverage area.

  5 users 25 users 50 users
Business Even More Unlimited w/unlimited text $269.99    
3,000 shared minutes, unlimited text $154.99    
Unlimited data add-on for all users $150    
10,000 shared minutes, unlimited text   $900  
20,000 shared minutes unlimited text   $1,300  
50,000 shared minutes unlimited text     $3,000
Unlimited data add-on for all users   $750 $1,500


Strengths: Customer service, strong international service

Weaknesses: Least flexibility in plan customization for small businesses, smaller phone selection

Standout devices: HTC HD2, T-Mobile G1

Fee for early contract termination: $200

Customer service rating (on 1,000- point scale)*: 777

SMB Voice share**: 9%

SMB voice satisfaction (scale of 1 to 10)**: 7.26

SMB data satisfaction (scale of 1 to 10)**: 6.45

Push-to-talk service available?: No

Network technology platform: GSM

Pricing for mobile broadband: $39.99 per month for 5GB

T-Mobile declined to comment for this article.



Verizon Wireless
Verizon's reputation for expansive network coverage and quality is what has pushed Verizon Wireless to the top of the market-share heap. Its leadership position and strong customer service marks make it a safe bet for many small businesses, though cost can be an issue for medium-size businesses. However, with strong consultative services offered to business customers to help them get the most business value out of their mobile technology, the price tag may be worth it.

  5 users 25 users 50 users
Unlimited voice, text, web $449.95    
3,000 shared minutes unlimited text $209.96    
Unlimited data add-on for all users $149.75    
10,000 shared minutes, unlimited text   $943.76  
20,000 shared minutes, unlimited text   $1,515.74  
30,000 shared minutes, unlimited text     $2,408.51
50,000 shared minutes, unlimited text     $3,725.54
Unlimited data add-on   $749.75 $1,499.50


Strengths: Holistic business consultation, best voice coverage and quality

Weaknesses: Cost, especially for medium-size businesses

Standout devices: HTC Droid Incredible, Droid X by Motorola, Samsung Reality

Fee for early contract termination: $175

Customer service rating (on 1,000- point scale)*: 749

SMB Voice share**: 44%

SMB voice satisfaction (scale of 1 to 10)**: 7.32

SMB data satisfaction (scale of 1 to 10)**: 7.57

Push-to-talk service available?: Yes

Network technology platform: CDMA

Pricing for mobile broadband: $59.99 per month for 5GB

"When you're dealing with a limited customer base, your business doesn't happen while you're sitting in the office. The thing we think we're doing well at Verizon Wireless is not just making it about [network] responsiveness, but also how you're taking the information you're getting from the customer and turning that into execution." -- Sean Wisdom, associate director of marketing strategy for Verizon

Prices are estimates based on published rates. We did our best to offer side-by-side comparisons of the type of services businesses were most likely to purchase, based on how providers parsed out minutes and data plans.

Small-business owners may have some wiggle room for negotiation depending on the number of lines under their plan. As with any contract you sign, be sure to read the fine print before you sign.

*JD Power and Associates Rankings **Yankee Group US Carrier Satisfaction Study 2010