As more people use their smartphones for more than phone calls, data usage -- otherwise known as surfing online -- is on the rise. Since last year, major mobile carriers including AT&T and Verizon have stopped offering unlimited data plans to new subscribers, meaning the costs associated with increased data usage are also growing.
For small-business owners who are just getting started, paying for individual data plans for employees using smartphones and other web-enabled mobile devices can get expensive. As much as 54 percent of mobile budgets at smaller companies get eaten up by data plans, according to New York City-based research firm the Gerson Lehrman Group Inc.
Each mobile device a business owner pays for incurs its own, separate data charge, says Sanjeev Aggarwal, founder and managing partner at the SMB Group Inc., a Northborough, Mass.-based research firm specializing in technology. "Data charges start to add up fast," he says.
Here are three tips to keep in mind for keeping data charges at a minimum for your business:
Related: Tips for Choosing the Right Smartphone for Your Business
1. Evaluate the mobile needs of your staff.
It might seem like a no-brainer, but before you hand out business smartphones to everyone on your team, determine if each person does in fact require a smartphone to do his or her job.
"Not every employee needs a smartphone. Some should be OK with using basic-feature phones that don't incur data charges," Aggarwal says.
The same logic applies to tablets. "A salesperson can benefit from having a tablet device for demos and reviewing proposals with clients," Aggarwal says. "An office manager or engineer might not."
2. Consider more data-friendly service plans.
While many carriers don't offer unlimited data plans anymore, there are some plans that can be more attractive for heavy data users. For example, AT&T offers Toggle, a service that allows people to switch between personal and work modes on their mobile devices, effectively keeping personal data usage separate from business use.
Earlier this month, Verizon introduced "Share Everything" plans which allow subscribers to share a single data allowance for up to 10 mobile devices. Plans begin at 1 GB for $50 per month and go up to 10 GB for $100. Plans also include unlimited voice minutes, unlimited text, video and picture messaging.
3. Use Wi-Fi networks whenever possible.
Make sure that handsets used by your employees for business -- whether it is their personal device or was issued by you -- can access Wi-Fi networks. If your employees often use mobile devices at the office, have them log onto your company Wi-Fi so that they aren't racking up data charges.
"You pay the subscription for your fixed broadband connection and router and that's all," says Windsor Holden, a research director at U.K.-based Juniper Research. The same goes for using secure Wi-Fi networks when on the road, he says.